Updated: Jun 21, 2020
“That doesn’t happen,” she said. “Yes it does,” I said.
My friend and I were heading to Macy’s. I had asked her had she ever heard the bells ringing when she walked into a Macy’s Department store. She of course had never heard the, “ding, ding, ding.”
Three short bells that Macy’s security would use to profile particular customers as potential shoplifters when they walked into their department store.
My friend of course had never heard the bells because she’s white. Rarely do the bells toll when a white customer, especially a white woman walked into a major department store in America.
But for me, a black woman, I heard those bells toll too many times. You know what’s funny, I continued to hear them ding, ding, ding, even after I had my own cosmetics counters in Macy’s Department stores.
On this day, long before I launched a luxury cosmetics line, my friend and I headed to the mall. I told her, I wanted her to see if I was right. So I waited outside the Macy’s entrance while she went in. She stood there listening to see if bells rang. No bells of course.
“Ok,” I said, as she stood just inside the entrance. I walked into the store, “ding,ding,ding!”
“What the hell,” she said. To say she was pissed would be an understatement. She was an ally before it became fashionable and wanted to see management. Quite honestly she was more upset than I was.
When we left the store she wanted to know why I wasn’t mad. I told her it was because I was just tired. The year was 1995 and I had already been through to many demonstrations. I’ve been involved in Social Justice my whole life. From the 1968 riots as a kid, and Civil Rights marches with my parents in the South, to marching against apartheid when I was in college.
When we left Macy’s that day we headed to Victoria’s Secret. We both found items we liked.
As we waited in line, I could see the young white salesgirl, who had followed me all over the store, head to the counter and whisper to the clerk. My friend noticed to.
As she checked out, she handed them her credit card, they ran it with no problem. My items were rung up and I handed the clerk my credit card.
“I’ll need some identification with that,” the clerk said. As I was getting my license out my friend asked the clerk why she didn’t ask for her license.
As the clerk tried to stammer through store policy, my friend told her she was returning her items and refused to shop at Vicky’s Closet (our nickname for Victoria’s Secret) again.
Recent events have forced me to recall all the times I’ve been profiled, or called the “N” word. Am I tired? You bet. But, when I become weary, I think about Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom.
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” – Nelson Mandela
For twenty seven years Nelson Mandela made a choice to be courageous and to never get tired. He made a choice to not be defined by his circumstances or his jailers. He made a choice to walk out of that prison and embrace the faces of hate that greeted him, rather than hate them back.
It takes courage to break from the norm, challenge the status quo, seek new opportunities, cut your losses, make the tough decisions, and stand up against hate and racism.
Today we all have the chance to be courageous. You have the chance to be like my friend was so long ago. Courage is staring down what frightens us the most. It’s the ability to get up each day and say, “I am my brothers keeper and Black Lives Matter!”