Actress and director Gabourey Sidibe shared an a “shopping while black” experience she had while attempting to buy glasses at a Chanel store in Chicago.
Sidibe tells Lenny that she was treated coldly by a Chanel salesperson, who barely acknowledged her when she asked for help and tried to direct her to a discount frame store instead.
“But … I want Chanel frames,” I said. She told me the name of the other store again and exactly how to get there and let me know that they had lots of different frames, including Chanel. I’d love to pretend she was being polite, and I’m sure she would love to pretend she was polite, but she was actually condescending. Explaining to me how exactly I should get across the street and out of her sight line, as if I were in kindergarten. I was trying to purchase glasses, and she was trying to get the interaction with me over as soon as possible. Just to be sure of what was happening, I made her tell me to leave, in her pretend-polite way, three times.
I knew what she was doing. She had decided after a single look at me that I wasn’t there to spend any money. Even though I was carrying a Chanel bag, she decided I wasn’t a Chanel customer and so, not worth her time and energy.
Sidibe’s experience at Chanel is all too familiar to black shoppers from all backgrounds, no matter how expensive or inexpensive a particular store is. The 34-year-old actress also shared similar incidents involving retail discrimination, going back to her teenaged years in New York City.
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. Even when I was a teenager, I knew it was because of my skin color but also because of the environment. I lived in the hood. Being suspected of stealing is just par for the course. Also, I definitely went through a mini-klepto phase when I was around fifteen, so some of that suspicion was warranted. But I grew out of it, and if I weighed the times I was suspected of stealing versus the time I actually stole something, it would be about 99 percent to 1 percent.
Gabourey Sidibe’s book This is Just My Face is now available on Amazon.