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Barneys New York was accused of racial profiling 19-year-old Trayon Christian, an engineering student of Queens, NY, and 21 year old nursing student and Brooklyn native Kayla Phillpswho alleged that they were harassed by undercover cops after purchasing merchandise. Christian, said that he knew exactly what he wanted before stepping foot into the upscale retailer on April 29. He coveted for a Ferragamo belt with a silver buckle and reversible black and white strap, which was seen being worn by popular hip hop rapper “Juelz Santana. Two months prior, Phillips was approached by undercover officers after purchasing at $2500.00 orange suede Céline handbag.

New York City’s black community and leaders are in an uproar over the recent allegations against Barneys. And there is a fire storm of verbal attacks against Hip Hop mogul Jay-Z, who’s seeking to launch a holiday apparel collection in a philanthropic effort to support under-served students who desire a higher education. Jay-Z stated that he was waiting to hear and receive more facts about the case before taking action, and doesn’t understand why he is being “ demonized” for doing so. As discussions take center stage around the most recent actions surrounding racial profiling, people of color are being prompted to take immediate action by community leaders to not only voice their concerns, but to stop patronizing retailers who frequently violate their human rights.

The world of hip hop has not only immensely contributed to popular street vernacular and music, but also fashion. Most of hip hop fashion trends are sparked by artists including brand name in their songs. For example, Kanye West stated on Rymefest’s song “Brand New” that “ Ralph Lauren was boring before I wore them” which may have popularized the brand amongst young black women and men. The hip hop industry may have influenced the black community obsession with high end fashion goods, which are hugely dominated by big corporate conglomerates and main stream media.

As a youth growing up in Harlem, NY in the early 90s, I was frequently bombarded by my peers conversation over “whose wearing the latest Jordan sneakers” or “whose getting the new 8 Ball leather jacket”. The cost of both items could range between $100 and $500+. A negative outcome of purchasing expensive paraphernalia were the frequent thefts and neighborhood violence that would arise within the black communities from those who could not afford luxury goods. Perhaps social and economic acceptances are among many reasons for spending on high-end merchandise by young black men and women.

Ray Fishman, a contributor of Slate.com states that our need for high-end merchandise is based on our desire to “revel prosperity to others as wealth signals”. Meaning, if you are able to acquire popular and expensive merchandise, you are better than those who are not. He also asserts that whites are less likely to spend money on things they cannot afford than blacks are, and that they’re less interested in comparing the assumption of “wealth” with their neighbors unlike their black counterparts.

The flurry of demeaning comments float across social media about Christian and Phillips choice to purchase high-end products from the luxury retailer – when they have yet to fully acquire economic stability themselves. Whether folks agree with their wishes to purchase or not, obtaining retail products should not impede on their rights as human beings. Reverend Al Sharpton and other community leaders think that all people should have the right to make purchases from their preferred retailer and not be harassed or discriminated against based on race or perceived economic status. Reverend Al Sharpton was quoted saying, “We’ve gone from stop and frisk to shop and frisk, and we are not going to take it”, which has compelled a call for action to boycott Barneys New York. Until a review and change of the current employee and customer policy is made.

The actress and songstress, Queen Latifah was quoted on the recent Barneys debacle as saying, “We’ve been going through this for a long time. We know that this is something that has been continuous in our community for us when we go into various stores. I like Barneys and I’d hate to have to boycott them!” The phenomenon of active community engagement on issues around race and equality is an ongoing battle within communities of color. We are moved to voice our concerns, create petitions and organize marches, but when the stories age and fizzes out as new issues arise, most of us either forget or are uninterested in pushing to change the status quo on racial profiling. I think it’s important for us to continue to be vigilant and proactive in our quest for equality.

Racial profiling has been an ongoing issue for many communities of color. Young black women and men's desires to acquire luxury items may be based on the current trends of popular hip hop artist and moguls, or a cry out for acceptance within their own communities; however, no one should be dehumanized or discarded for attempting or making purchases from a retailer. It’s important that we not only voice our concerns to community leaders, local politicians and media outlets, but continue to take action on what is most important to us and our communities in the pursuit of equality for all.

If you are a resident of New York City and your civil liberties have been violated, please contact New York Civil Liberties Union for expert advice and next steps. If you live outside of New York City, contact your regional chapter office for more information or your local legislator.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hannah

    State of Opportunity - a blog about human rights and the American Dream.

    by The Opportunity Agenda on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:29:09 AM PDT

  •  Do you believe JayZ is being disingenuous when (0+ / 0-)

    he says he cannot understand the backlash against him for wanting to wait until the facts come out?

    (Meanwhile, while he waits, I would think they are moving ahead with the deal. I believe he is also going to be featured in their window display, or contribute to its design. Obviously, time is of the essence, as this is tied in with holiday shopping surges and choices).

    I'm sorry.  Barney's went into this deal with JayZ to make money and probably to get (ironically) some good publicity due to the charitable use of the money on his end, and the charitable contribution on all sales from Barney's end.  How can he not talk to their execs/board and exert a little pressure?  And if he is doing that quietly (which I believe he is not at present), then he needs to publicize his efforts.  He could make a public display of his talks with them, and even if it is itself "window dressing", perhaps Barney's could come out and say the right things here that would help.  IMHO, JayZ is big enough to exert pressure and if he didn't like the tenor of the discussions, simply pull out of the deal, and contribute the damn $$$ himself.  At that point, Barney's would look so bad, I bet they could be pressured into giving what they would have contributed anyway if the deal had gone on.

    As a white man (tho with a black wife) I am hesitant to say what JayZ should do here, but I just can't see sitting around doing nothing, while the clock ticks down to the holiday season.  As the person that I am, I had strong opinions, which I kept between me, myself, and my wife, about Jordan and his expensive sneakers and his (lack of) sense of responsibility, compared to a guy like Marbury (sp?), who I personally could not stand, but truly respected his endorsement of Starbury (sp?) 12. dollar sneakers! Perhaps the facts about Barney's won't come out until January.  Wouldn't that be convenient?

    Ayn sucks. Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer.

    by Floyd Blue on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:44:49 AM PDT

    •  Eh, there's gonna be a BUNCH of $ already spent, (0+ / 0-)

      contracts already signed. I'd be surprised if there isn't already a contractual obligation going both ways. This deal may not be easy to walk away from.

      And there may be a lot more info that hasn't hit the press yet.

      We've seen plenty of folks jump to conclusions of late. I agree, this doesn't look good- but that doesn't mean that anything actually happened. We have courts to figure that kinda thing out.

      •  But you can always walk away. It just costs. (0+ / 0-)

        But the fact that it is hard to walk away from puts even more pressure on Barney's to have to swallow some medicine while going ahead with it.

        Ayn sucks. Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer.

        by Floyd Blue on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 11:00:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It just seems to me he could be extracting some (0+ / 0-)

          public shit from them (mea culpas, embarrassment) as time goes on to the holiday season, and he is not.  It's just my opinion.  I tend not to like JayZ very much, though, ironically, my sister thinks I look like him!

          Ayn sucks. Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer.

          by Floyd Blue on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 11:01:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The segregationists' revenge could be (0+ / 0-)

    encapsulated in the dictum, "if they want to be equal let them be equally deprived," and for almost four decades money was the tool with which this wholesale deprivation was to be achieved, and has been, quite successfully achieved. That 99% are financially worse off than they used to be is not a happenstance. The dollar and discriminatory legislation worked together to achieve that result.
    The thing to consider is that segregationists are not motivated by antagonism towards one ethnic group or another. Rather, they seek to exclude because they desire to be exclusive and being exclusive means somebody (anybody, really) has to be shut out.
    Money seemed like such a neutral tool for arriving at exclusivity. If now it turns out that the inherently democratic nature of the dollar defies exclusivity, that's very upsetting. Without money and the law at their back and call, how will the exclusives demonstrate their superiority to everyone else?

    I think we should all take another look at "Pretty Woman." People who thrive on putting other people down are a sorry lot.
    As a former New Yorker I can only ask "where does Barney's get off putting on such airs?" I wouldn't be caught dead shopping there. But then, I don't shop anywhere, if I can help it. The retail experiences has really been degraded since I worked at Macy's during the x-mas holidays while I was in college.

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