I had just finished browsing the merchandise of a popular retail store. I had in my hand a plastic shopping bag. It wasn’t from the store and I was worried. As I sometimes am when leaving department stores.

There was a white girl some distance ahead of me. The bags she carried crunched together as she walked. There was a man browsing the shirt rack she passed when she exited the store. He never looked up when the alarm gate went off. 

I had exited a store once before and set off its anti theft alarm. It wasn’t uncommon. Sometimes it was because of a cellphone or a tag not removed. Never though because of stolen goods

Sometimes I stop and wait for security that never come. Other times I keep walking.

The guard stopped me before I reached the doors. He asked me to empty my pockets. He asked for my bag. As he searched through my things I couldn’t help but wonder what all of the onlookers, all of the white customers were thinking. I was humiliated by their gazes, of all their assumptions that I was a thief.

He handed me my bag and smiled. I left. That was my last time shopping there.

Other customers had exited the store since the white woman, some white, some Black. Once or twice the alarm went off. No one was stopped. I was ready to go home. I didn’t move, frozen in a space,race & time continuum.

I felt watched, I felt suspected. Criminalized. I felt Black.

 

 

Do you recall any specific experiences when you were racially profiled? Are there times you feel stereotyped and criminalized because of your appearance and Blackness?

The Our Black Project is accepting 1-2 page narratives of the Black Experience and the multiplicity of Blackness. The goal of Our Black is to build a collection of narratives that reflect the diverse experiences of Black folk, one which could be used to better understand the complexity, depth, and challenges of Being and living Black. Please check out the project and submit your experiences today for the soon to be published anthology!

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zellie imani

Zellie is a writer, photographer, activist, and teacher based in North Jersey.
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