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