“I Either Look Like A Thief Or A Waste Of Time”: Gabby Sidibe On Shopping While Black — And Famous

May 9, 2017  |  

It doesn’t matter how famous you think you are or how big your pockets get. If billionaire Oprah Winfrey can be a victim of marketplace discrimination while trying to buy a $38,000 bag, any star of color should know good and well that they’re not immune from shopping while black situations.

Actress Gabourey Sidibe recently dealt with her own uncomfortable shopping experience while checking out a Chanel store in Chicago, where she shoots Empire. She wrote about it for the site, Lenny Letter. She went in the store, near her apartment, to get a pair of frames for herself and some sandals for her co-star, Taraji P. Henson. She thought she looked cute in her boots, Balenciaga shades, long wig and vintage Chanel purse from straight out of a “Mary J. Blige video,” but the saleswoman thought she looked like a waste of time.

“Can I take a look at your eyeglasses?” I asked.

“We don’t have any,” she answered. “We only have shades. There’s a store across the street that sells eyeglasses.”

“Across the street?” I asked, confused.

“Yes. In the building across the street on the fifth floor.” She gave me the name of a discount frames dealer. I had been at her display for less than a minute, and she was literally directing me to another store.

From there, the woman directed her to the other store three different times in a condescending manner. Sidibe revealed that it’s something she’s experienced throughout her life — even after garnering fame as an Academy Award-nominated actress.

This actually happens to me a lot. My whole life. Both before and after I became a recognizable actress. It happened to me in St. Maarten on vacation after shooting a film, when I went to a Dior counter to look at lip gloss and the saleswoman literally took a gloss out of my hand and put it back down in the display case. It used to happen to me at my neighborhood beauty-supply store in New York, where I was relentlessly followed around whenever my mom sent me to pick up shampoo and Q-tips…No matter how dressed up I get, I’m never going to be able to dress up my skin color to look like what certain people perceive to be an actual customer. Depending on the store, I either look like a thief or a waste of time. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground between no attention and too much attention.

I still had to get Taraji’s sandals, so I asked where to find them. The saleswoman seemed annoyed but walked me further into the store. As we passed through, other employees who were of color noticed me. All of a sudden, the woman who had pointed me out of the store let me know that even though they didn’t have eyeglasses, the shades they carried actually doubled as eyeglass frames, so I should take a look at the shades I’d come to look at in the first place. Just like that, I went from being an inconvenience to a customer.

Despite feeling much less than a warm welcome, Sidibe said that she did buy two pairs of glasses and a couple of pairs of sandals from the shop. And while some people would have walked out of the store, determined not to give the establishment a dime, as she put it, “if I walked out of every store where someone was rude to me, I’d never have anything nice.” She did give her email in the hopes of receiving the customer service survey, which she did get. But the star is struggling with feelings of not wanting to drag the sales associate.

To be fair, I don’t know why that saleswoman didn’t want to help me. I suspect it’s because I’m black, but it could also be because I’m fat. Maybe my whole life, every time I thought someone was being racist, they were actually mistreating me because I’m fat. That sucks too. That’s not OK. I’ve felt unwelcome in many stores throughout my life, but I just kind of deal with it. As a successful adult, sometimes I walk out of the store in a huff, without getting what I want, denying them my hard-earned money. Other times I spend my money in an unfriendly store as if to say “F–k you! I’ll buy this whole damn store!”

But now as I sit staring at what seems like the hundredth customer-service survey I’ve accepted but not completed, it occurs to me: does it matter whether my waist is wide or if my skin is black as long as my money is green?

It shouldn’t matter, but whether because of your color, size or perceived income, to the ignorant, it still does.


Image via WENN

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