Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dollarama and the Harm of Racial Profiling

Like most people today, my family and I are always looking for a good deal. On Sunday July 21, we got more than we bargained for at the Dollarama located at:

 5175 Victoria Ave, N.F. ON

In a down turned economy, the rate of loss from theft certainly goes up because people become desperate when their paychecks don't stretch far enough.  It is understandable to me why any major corporation would take loss prevention seriously, but not why they would then conclude that they had the right to racially profile someone.

A number of White people entered the store before my children and I but it was not until we did that the rent-a-cop went into action.  He aggressively stalked my boys as they made their way through the store, ignoring all of the other shoppers. I have since then wondered how many thefts occurred while he was aggressively stalking us through the store.  I made eye contact with the rent-a-cop p on several occasions as he stalked my children.  Finally, when we made it to the cashier, my patience had been exhausted and so I asked to speak to the manager.  When she presented herself, I asked that she inform her rent-a-cop that racial profiling is unacceptable.  She informed that it is his job to follow people through the store and that he follows all kinds of people.  I suggested that it was not accidental that he had chosen to aggressively fixate on the only Black people in the store.  When I looked up, I saw that the rent-a-cop was smirking at me. I yelled that this was not the least bit funny and a serious issue. I was absolutely enraged to see this privileged White male smirking and enjoying the show, as though his actions had caused my family no harm. Even though we knew that his job is about loss prevention, to stalk someone in a threatening manner is intimidating and my children were will aware of the power imbalance between them.  I again asserted that this was absolutely racist and that it was disgusting and the manager then asked me what I was going to do about it - thus reminding me that in this situation, despite being a customer, the colour of my skin had rendered me powerless. When I then made it clear that we were leaving and would not be returning, she responded with, "good" and that they didn't need our kind in there. As I left, I told the rent-a-cop that he was a racist piece of trash as he continued to smile. Not only were my complaints ignored, it's clear that we were thought to be the problem.

From the moment I made it clear that my issue was about race, the manager was clearly offended. This was not in the least bit surprising, as far too many White people have come to believe that being called a racist, or being accused of engaging in racist behaviour, is somehow worse than living with racism.  It is far too easy to erase complaints of racism because it is understood that to legitimize them, would be to acknowledge being wrong or bad in some way. The argument is that if racism is wrong and I engage in it, I am a bad person but since I know that I am a good person, I could not possible have said or done something racist.  I could almost see the wheels turning in the manager's head.  It was far easier for her to dismiss than to acknowledge the veracity of what I was saying, even though her dismissal is counter to good business practices. Dollarama is in business to make money and by making it difficult or uncomfortable for people of colour to shop there, they are reducing the chances that we will then in turn spend our hard earned money on their products, thereby reducing their bottom line. Incidents like this reveal exactly why we cannot count on capitalism to eradicate oppressive behaviour.

Every person of colour has at some point been followed through a store.  Each time it happens, it is infuriating.  When it happens to me, I tend to get irritated and go about my business but I draw the line when a grown ass man starts heavily eye balling my seven and twelve year old son, and aggressively stalking them through the store in what is clearly a threatening manner.  Black children are forced to lose their innocence all too early and it's incidents like this that teach them that they are a threat and worth less than White people. As a White male, the rent-a-cop knew that his race and gender would serve to protect him and justify his clearly threatening behaviour.  It is alarming to me that though my children presented no threat and in fact did not steal a thing from the store, the colour of their skin immediately made them suspect. People of colour as a threat is the predominant narrative, though Whiteness is certainly guilty of far more violence and exist in larger numbers in our prisons.  This fact is largely ignored to instead trumpet prison population by using the percentage of the population.  Race is not now, or ever has been for that matter, an indicator of criminality. This is particularly true when it comes to property crime whose largest indicator is class position.

Many Canadians have the ridiculous belief that Canada is somehow less racist than the U.S.  They repeat the lie about how Canada is a tossed salad instead of a melting pot and how multi-culturalism in Canada leads to equality. What they fail to understand is that this does not take into account all of the little microaggressions that people of colour face every day. Canada has never been a race neutral society despite it's continued claim that we're supposedly better than the U.S.  Even if we were to stipulate that Canada is more socially progressive than the U.S (a fact I don't necessarily agree with), how is it that this statement somehow equals good?  The truth of the matter is that the daily assaults that Canadians of colour face are erased from the media in order to sell this lie.  The very covert nature of these assaults means that they are not taken seriously and makes it possible for these incidents to be treated as isolated, rather than part of the national structure and an absolute systemic evil.

As a Black woman, I have been subjected to more racists incidents than I can possibly recount.  Each incident has scared me in some way but none have bothered me more than the incidents which have involved my precious sons. The assaults against my children evidence how despite my very best efforts to protect them and guard their childhood that I am powerless against a system which is determined to oppress people of colour.  It means that my children have been forced to learn about power and privilege in sometimes destructive ways, even as White children who are the same age concern themselves with nothing beyond the most casual childhood dramas.  This incident at Dollarama will stay with them as all incidents of racist assaults do and the rent-a-cop will tuck it away as yet further proof of the value of his person. That my children have been damaged and scared by this incident will be quickly forgotten by both the manager and the rent-a-cop because while my actions where in the name of justice, theirs were in the name of White supremacy. At the end of the day, no matter how far we have supposedly come, the businesses which use power corrosively, aren't interested in a narrative of equality and justice because their real goal isn't profit - it's criminalizing and oppressing the least of us.