Despite a federal judge ruling New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy as unconstitutional in August, racial profiling persists, and we are far from a post-racial America. On April 29, 19-year-old engineering student Trayon Christian purchased a $349 designer belt from Barneys in New York City. After he purchased the belt, Barneys reported a criminal act to the New York Police Department.
Immediately after leaving the store, he was handcuffed and detained.
According to Reuters, police inquired “as to how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt.”
The police went on to accuse him of using a fake debit card. Christian was only released once Chase confirmed that the card was indeed his.
Christian is pursuing a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys and the NYPD for unspecified damages. Barneys has said that it defends its “zero tolerance [policy] for any form of discrimination” on Facebook, but the store has not offered an apology to Christian.
Those who are defensive of Barneys might argue that it was simply a mistake; they might say that the same could happen to a white person if a debit card looked suspicious, so it could have happened to anyone. This argument, however, ignores the subtle albeit pervasive racism that exists today.
The Barneys incident is just a microcosm of the larger racist attitudes that permeate our culture. Racism did not die with slavery. Microaggressions exist even in the most innocuous circumstances and often are a result of implicit biases.
A racial microaggression could include stopping someone in an airport, blatantly ignoring or becoming more defensive around people of color. In other words, it is a way in which people of color are made to feel like the “other.” Microaggressions can apply to any marginalized group.
Often, those performing microaggressions are unaware that they are doing so. Yet these seemingly innocent acts that society accepts as normal contribute to further racial injustices. In particular, racial microaggression is closely related to racial profiling.
According to Crime Doctor, a website hosted by security consultant and private investigator Chris McGoey, in one major department store, 90 percent of those apprehended for shoplifting were people of color. Yet store demographics showed only a 15 percent customer minority base. These absurd figures are eerily reminiscent of the similarly skewed stop-and-frisk statistics.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 2002 to 2012, almost 90 percent of those stopped were black or Latino, and 88 percent of all stopped were innocent. The implicit biases held by those in power are damaging and hurtful, regardless of how well meaning perpetrators of such microaggressions believe themselves to be.
First, it is wrong to assume anything about a person’s bank account or motives based on skin color or dress. Second, we cannot pretend that the accusation of Christian was a mere coincidence.
In considering statistics of those profiled, stopped or apprehended, it is clear that there is a problem. The problem is not with people of color committing higher rates of crime but rather society’s racist attitudes surrounding people of color.
As uncomfortable as it is for whites to confront ourselves as part of the culture that benefits from racial profiling, it is imperative to address how culture and media perpetuate racism through microaggressions, beginning with us.