Kicked Out Of The Mall For Anti Cancer Hat: Profane Or Shopping While Black?

May 23, 2013  |  

Was this anti-breast cancer hat (pictured above) too obscene for the mall or are these women guilty of shopping while black?

That is the question I have after reading about the story of Makia Underwood, 32, Zakia Clark, 29, and Tasha Clark, 27, who have been wearing fitted hats and shirts, with “F- CANCER,” appliqued on the front. The North Philadelphia-based siblings had been wearing the brazen anti-cancer sentiment gear in honor of their mother, who had recently passed away after a long fight with breast cancer. To help drive home the point, the letter “c” in the F-word, had been replaced by the traditional breast cancer awareness pink ribbon.

It’s a sentiment that many can get behind: I mean, nobody likes cancer. However the security guard, who approached the siblings in the food court of the King of Prussia Mall, located about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia, wasn’t in the Susan B. Komen spirit

According to the Philadelphia Daily News:

“The ladies had just sat down when a security guard approached them and, without a greeting, ordered: ” ‘Take your hats off,’ ” Zakia said. Zakia took hers off, but Tasha, who once worked at the mall, told the guard she wanted to see something in writing. It was almost as if Tasha were channeling their mother’s strong spirit, Zakia said, and it inspired her to put her own hat back on. “He said, ‘Since you don’t want to take your hat off, you can leave my mall,’ ” Zakia recalled. “He stood there while we ate and threatened to call the cops.” Out of nowhere, Zakia said, seven more guards surrounded them. “I was very embarrassed,” she said. “My daughter was so scared she was crying.”As the group was escorted to the mall office, Makia called and met up with them. Once they got to the office, the women were met by an Upper Merion Township police officer, who had been called to the mall by security guards. The officer said, ‘I find it offensive that you even have that hat that says ‘F— CANCER,’ ” Zakia said. “He said, ‘It’s their mall, they want you out, you have to get out.” The women were escorted out, and two security cars were waiting for them at their car just to make sure they left, Zakia said.

Initially KOP mall managers, Simon Property Group based in Indianapolis, stood behind the security guard’s actions, citing the mall as a family destination, however according to the Daily News, KOP mall managers has since reached out to the Clarks and apologized for the security guards lack of discernment with company policy about decency, stating, “Certainly this could have been handled in a much more empathic and sensitive manner. We’re very sorry about her loss and wanted to apologize for the way her party was treated. I do think this is an entirely different situation than a 16-year-old kid with a swear word on his T-shirt cruising the mall. We need to be empathic, sympathetic and listen and make sure that we’re approaching each situation as it comes up.”

Certainly there is something profane about the F-word and I can see how some parents might wonder if this is an appropriate message in a public space where children might “Fawk” – even with the breast cancer ribbon. However I would think Cancer would be more offensive. And this particular context, the C-word might matter much more than the less deadlier curse word in question. At the very least, this security guard was in his Paul Blart: Mall Cop-bag.

However being from the great state of Pennsylvania, which has been satirized by some locals as ‘Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Kentucky in between,’ it is very well understood the risk one takes when shopping outside of the city limits, especially when you are black. Based upon the public perception that all blacks steal – or are out to disturb the peace of the good white folks shopping experience – black folks routinely find themselves profiled, treated rudely and harassed during shopping experiences, so much so that the act has an official term: “Shopping While Black.” Most times it is a minor inconvenience for us folks, however and on occasion this subtle form of racism can result in incidences like what had happened to the Clark family.

Another bit of irony is that in this same mall, you can shop in an Abercrombie & Fitch, which recently has come under fire for some discriminating statements about their preferred customers; or window browse at an American Apparel, who most recently sparked outrage in Sweden for its highly sexualized images of half-unclothed woman in its advertising; or even likely to find a French Connection UK (also known as FCUK) t-shirt in one of the outlet department stores. If anything, there is some selective reasoning of what is considered appropriate in public spaces. But maybe that is all part of the new slave mentality that Kanye West was talking about.

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