When East Hartford native Teshell Drummond and her sister accompanied their mother on her quest to find a dress to wear to a funeral, they assumed it would be another routine shopping day. However, when the ladies walked into Beautiful Things Lifestyle Boutique—a clothing and accessories store and one of many promenade shops on Evergreen Walk in South Windsor—their routine shopping day would soon turn into an embarrassing spectacle of consumer racial profiling and a shoplifting accusation.
And any Black woman who has ever tried shopping in relative peace in a beauty supply shop or higher-end clothing store used to catering to a predominantly white clientele, knows the anxiety of this shakedown all too well. Recently, Teshell took to Facebook to voice her displeasure with the customer service at Beautiful Things Lifestyle Boutique. Amidst the show of support from friends and potential customers alike were ill-thought out responses from a manager or, perhaps, the owner; who doubled-down on her behavior, took, what some would consider, a passive aggressive stance, and accused those asking for accountability of “playing the race card.”
Teshell insists that when she and her family walked into the South Windsor boutique (with nothing but their purses in tow), a sales associate greeted them, asked them the purpose of their trip and seemed to a bit skittish about them walking around the store with the dress options their mother was mulling over; insisting they let her hang them in a dressing room and purportedly keeping a close eye on them while they were trying on the dresses.
“When my mother didn’t find a dress that fit we handed Marsha (the sales associate) the dresses in her hand,” Teshell said in a phone interview.
When Teshell, her sister and her mother walked towards the exit, a manager intercepted them and insisted they went into the dressing room with 8 dresses and only returned 7 of them to the sales associate. “She was yelling and talking in a loud voice in front of all of the customers,” Teshelle said incredulously. “We didn’t take anything. We even lifted up our garments and opened our purses to show her that we didn’t steal anything.”
When Teshell’s sister insisted on an apology, the manager chalked the incident and accusation up to it “possibly” being their mistake. And since the faux-pology didn’t do anything to mitigate the public embarrassment Teshell and her family were subjected to, they turned to social media to relay their experience as somewhat of a cautionary tale for other potential shoppers. While consumer racial profiling is nothing new to Black shoppers, the incident at Beautiful Things Lifestyle Boutique follows in a string of recent incidents around the country involving people of color trying to shop without incident.
Just this past December (days after Teshell’s experience) a Black woman from Alabama posted a Facebook video shortly after having been kicked out of a Victoria’s Secret at Quintard Mall by a store manager, along with the only other Black shopper in the store, because they were the same race as another Black woman accused of stealing.
And this past year, a CVS Pharmacy in New York was recently hit with class action lawsuits filed by four chain detectives known as “market investigators,” accusing CVS supervisors of ordering them to target Black and Hispanic store patrons. Black consumers continue to set trends and flex enough buying power to influence the American economy, but are still subjected to the emotional stress of shopping while Black. Even Oprah Winfrey, a renowned media proprietress, influencer and billionaire, is no stranger to the perils of being racially profiled while trying to shop.
Beautiful Things Lifestyle Boutique took down (or changed the url name of) their Facebook page since being called out and declined comment, claiming not to want to “incite racism.”
Meanwhile Teshell, who also works in retail, cautioned store proprietors to stop stereotyping Black shoppers and assuming every person of color is patronizing stores just to steal from them.
“I’ve been working retail for over 18 years. Not only minorities steal. All people steal,” she said.
“Not every person is going to apologize for [causing someone to have] a negative shopping experience, but don’t approach people negatively. Treat them the same.”
[This report is featured in the February 15th print edition of Northend Agent’s newspaper]
Tiffani Jones is the creator and writer of Coffee Rhetoric, a blog about women, pop-culture, film and race. A frequent contributor to both print and digital media platforms, she is the Digital Content Editor for Northend Agent’s and has offered commentary on HuffPost Live, in the NY Times, and on WNPR. More info about her work can be found on www.coffeerhetoric.com. Follow her on Twitter: @Coffey0072