Oh Barneys!!!

In recent press history, we are again discussing the issue of race and ethnicity. A steady diet of salacious content about the provocative actions of representatives of large and small retail stores has hit the social media landscape. Within the narratives is the disturbing element of profiling on account of one’s race.

Retrieved from Google Images, October 24, 2013.

First claim

Trayvon Christian, a 19 year old of Queens, New York, was allegedly taken away in handcuffs because of his purchase of a US$349 Ferragamo belt. Christian alleges that he was detained and questioned in relation to his purchase. With no reason to keep him locked up, he was released from custody.

Second claim

Kayla Phillips, 21 years old, was stopped and questioned by police about her purchase of a bag for the large sum of US$2,500. She is alleged to have received her tax refund and made the decision to purchase a Celine purse.

In both instances, the aggrieved parties are African-Americans and both have sought legal representation.

Barneys New York, the company at the epicenter of these unfortunate incidents, departed from normal protocol in handling these public incidents, to reinforce on its Facebook page according to the Chicago Tribune that “no employee of Barneys were involved” as well as to assert that it “has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights.” Human rights and civil rights activists are incensed and are preparing to treat with the issue by calling for a meeting with Barneys’ CEO.

Barneys is not the only party identified in these interests. The NYPD and how its officers dealt with these young African -American students have also come under the fire.

Whatever side of the fence you decide to sit on, one has to admit that the issue of color is a challenge for many. Individuals with a darker hue report that they are followed by sales representatives and questioned about their ability to make  purchases, especially if the should enter a luxurious entity.

Not wanting to labor extensively on the race narratives and themes that are glaringly obvious, I want to navigate to the issue of emotional intelligence within the work-space. In diverse societies where our talent pool are drawn from the various communities, how is the issue of sensitivity to race relations being addressed. I ask this against the background of similar instances like the two examples above which attracted public discourse. Barneys has repudiated any suggestion that its workers initiated this conflict. This may be true, however, their Company’s image/reputation is now associated with the sordid outcome.

The CEO and the leaders of this entity have a duty to stand by their values and to ensure that their representatives demonstrate the kind of behaviors that will have every customer satisfied. To do this, they must accept that something happened and it must be addressed. If not done, I submit that a sensitivity training be built into the fabric of their learning and development programs. This should be a consistent effort to solidify the concept of human rights by reinforcing the language and behaviors that will transform how customers are treated. This advice is also for the representatives of law and order for the state.

I can fully comprehend that fraud is a nightmare that all companies in the business of selling products and services encounter and the enterprise has to take steps to address same. What I cannot condone is the issue of profiling on account of one’s race.

Taking steps to psychologically and physically vilify another because of the socially constructed meaning of color can only widen the gap of intolerance. In that scenario, no one wins.

Copyright Suzette Henry-Campbell 2013

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