Can You Have A Mutually Beneficial Business Solution To Racial Profiling?

November 18, 2013  |  

Jay Z released another statement on Friday concerning his relationship with Barneys post-racial profiling scandal. Explaining that he and his team have been given details about the investigation into the incidents reported by Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips and he’s been in touch with the New York State Attorney General’s office, Jay says he will move forward with the BNY SCC collection but with a caveat: he will sit on a council to deal specifically with racial profiling. “The easy position would have been to walk away and leave policy making to others hoping that someone addresses the problem. I will not leave the outcome to others. I will take this into my own hands with full power to recommend, review and revise policies and guidelines moving forward. I am choosing to take this head on,” he writes.

He says the Shawn Carter Foundation will now receive all of the proceeds from the sale of the collection, plus an additional 10 percent of all sales made at Barneys New York this Wednesday, November 20th.

From Barneys’ point of view, this is a donation that’s worth the cost. Not only are they putting their money towards a philanthropic effort, but one that’s geared towards African Americans, which (surely they hope) will garner them some goodwill in return. And for Jay Z, he maintains the business relationship with Barneys, helps his foundation, and leaves the door open for future business dealings. Finally, the beneficiaries at the Shawn Carter Foundation will reap rewards from this solution. So it sounds like a win for everyone. Except maybe the customers who will once again be profiled should all of this be for the sake of public relations.

As Sean John executive Alain LaFontant told us in a recent (and prescient) discussion on this very topic, Fashion Week is usually the time when a lack of diversity in the fashion industry becomes most clearly evident. It’s right there in front of you, on display on the catwalk. Here we have the issue thrust into the headlines and at least one retailer must find a way to take steps (even if they are baby steps) to changing things.

Wrapped up in the legal and racial issues of this situation is a lack of respect. Barneys believes there are customers who want to shop at their store and buy their fancy goods, but can’t do that without there being some wrongdoing involved. That’s why two purchases made by African Americans that shouldn’t have raised an eyebrow instead caused a mountain of controversy.

What’s really needed here is a foundation for respectful business transactions at the sales and managerial level at the store. If all we have are optics — Jay Z is sitting on a board, Barneys is meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton — without any demonstrable change, it’s all going to end up being business as usual until the next incident.

To be clear: there’s no way that Jay Z and Barneys could’ve continued with their business plans without backlash. They had to know that. It looks like they both want to make money and they’re hoping that throwing a bone to the angry masses will make the issue eventually fall out of the headlines. As Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley says in this quote from The New York Times, “Any African-American, male or female, with any consciousness of what has happened would not go into Barneys right now.” Note the “right now.”

If Barneys’ policies change; if outreach to black patrons continues in a way that demonstrates that Barneys doesn’t just want to sell things, but is actually putting out the welcome mat to provide good service and a pleasant shopping experience for all of their customers equally, then this will be a situation that truly benefits everyone.

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