Racial profiling is unfortunately something that most Black people have experienced or will experience at some point in their lives, whether realized or not. The idea that someone will keep a closer eye on what you’re doing in a public place because of your skin color sounds baffling and ridiculous, but it is sadly becoming more and more of a common practice as racial tensions between the Black and White communities continue to increase

Clothing stores, convenient stores or practically any stores where goods are available for purchase are the most common places where Black people are likely to experience this practice, and popular clothing/accessories retailer Zara is the latest to come under fire for allegedly racially profiling their African-American customers. Zara has been under investigation in connection with a $40 million racial discrimination lawsuit alleging that Black Zara employees received unfair treatment, but according to The Guardian, the investigation also led to some disturbing findings about the treatment of African-American customers. Findings of a report compiled by The Center for Popular Democracy claims an employee survey conducted during the investigation process revealed the alleged use of the code phrase “special order” to identify Black shoppers in the store and alert employees to follow them around or watch them more closely that other customers. Although the report on the survey makes it clear that 43% of employees refused to answer questions about the code phrase, it was also revealed 46% of those who did answer said that the black customers were called special orders “always” or “often. One employee even admitted that “black customers were targeted when it came to stealing.”

When asked to comment on the use of “special order” code phrase, a Zara spokesperson had this to say:

“The expression ‘special order’ is a term used to designate a common situation in which associates are requested to enforce customer service and zone coverage on the floor. It does not designate a person or group of people of any category.”

Having worked in retail before, I can attest to the existence of certain code phrases that are used between employees to identify situations in the store that require more attention than usual as a way to not let the customer in on the fact that more attention is being paid to them than normal. Judging from the company’s response regarding the “special order” phrase paired with the overwhelming response from employees blatantly stating that the phrase is commonly used to identify Black customers as potential shoplifters as suspected, it’ll be interesting to see how this case plays out in court.


Image Credit: The Guardian/Creative Commons

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  • Me

    it would be nice to have a black retailer that makes professional clothing. i’m not talking about entertainers turned designers. i mean real clothing stores owned & operated by black folks with working class prices and functional websites that i could spend my money at. i don’t buy from zara, but i don’t doubt that the other stores i do buy from are just as racist.

    • Ann Gomez

      I agree, we really need to start our on bussiness.

    • You’re right. We certainly need to build our own institutions. Any form of racial profiling should never be tolerated.

    • YeahAboutThatThough

      It shouldn’t but I highly doubt anybody who goes out of their way to A) start a “black” retailer in response to racial profiling or B) goes out of their way to shop at a “black” retailer would do either of those things without racially profiling non whites who come and shop there too. I’m pretty sure they’ll be suspicious and possibly even unkind to non blacks in general because they are hurting/have been hurt to the point where they need to shop at so called “black stores.” IJS

    • Andrea

      Does anyone have suggestions for clothing stores owned & operated by black folks that Clutch readers can check out? Also there needs to be some type of google group/listserv that can make it easier for us to promote, support and share black owned businesses.

  • TivoliEclipse

    This is why brick and mortar will go the way of the Dodo very soon in lieu of online shopping. Good riddance to pesky racism.

    • Delia

      NPR just had a special on that. Malls and shops are the way of the past and they know it.

    • TivoliEclipse

      Racism is costly. Racists keep falling on their swords.

  • Delia

    UUGGGHH NOOOO!!! I love Zara.
    When I was in Puerto Rico, I went to their Zara and my friend (who is a dark-skinned Puerto Rican) noticed the ‘treatment’ toward and demanded for us to leave. I didn’t get it until later as every time I raised my head, there stood security in my face…
    Now I never experienced that in the U.S., but that doesn’t say ‘special delivery’ wasn’t said when I walked through the door.
    Another retail chain to avoid smh…

    • TivoliEclipse

      If you want my money — you need to kiss my derrière.

  • Rizzo

    another ‘code’ word.