I am reaching out to you with the hope you may be interested in sharing the following one with your readers at The New Orleans Tribune. It concerns me and my sister being refused service at a Walgreens in Baton Rouge.
It was Christmas day in Baton Rouge when I was visiting family. Of course, we forgot a number of items, and after a seemingly endless carousel of closed grocery stores, my sister, Kay and I lowered our expectations and headed to the trusty Walgreens. Maybe they had some crackers acceptable for company.
Chipper and excited to be together on our favorite day of the year, Kay and I entered Walgreens No. 3610 in East Baton Rouge in search for some last minute amenities. That is when a yell from the cashier station threw me for a loop.
“Y’all can’t shop here with those big purses,” the Caucasian cashier hollered, hurling herself over the counter.
I looked down at my arm where the handbag I’ve taken into every store from CVS to Saks Fifth Avenue rested. “This bag?” I thought.
“Well,” I asked, “Is there a purse or bag check where we can leave our bags as we continue to shop,” She wasn’t having it.
“Huh, we don’t have that.” And again, “Y’all can’t shop here.”
I should mention here that my sister and I are Black and Cuban, born in New Orleans, with roots in the Crescent City dating back to the early 1800’s.
So, I asked her, “Do you treat all customers like this, or just brown people?”
Of course, while being racist is acceptable in East Baton Rouge, a community where many of its residents, incidentally, would like to secede from the city proper so their kids may attend public school outside of the shadow of Black children, it is a no-no to point the finger at it.
Outdone, the cashier huffed and grumbled under her breath, but had no response.
A white father, however, in line with his daughter wearing her holiday finest, heard the whole thing. Covering his child’s ears, the man looked at me and chided, “Do you mind, children are present.” Only one child was present, but grammar isn’t the issue.
Burning daylight and expected home, my sister led the way out of the door. She’d also had enough. I could tell.
I felt assaulted, my right to shop at a store violated. I had known Walgreens to be one of the more progressive pharmacies. I remember my father telling me about how they allowed Blacks to work as pharmacist way before the other establishments. But this was no excuse.
This was Jim Crow 2016 and I was troubled, really troubled.
I know there are Black men and women, Latinos, Native Americans and Muslims being assaulted and killed in the streets for their background, skin color and beliefs. So, I wonder and toil over how this incident fits in? Is this racism light?
I thought again about the cashier’s words, “You can’t shop here,” and the father shielding his child from my abrasive black behavior; his telling me to quiet myself, so that his child wouldn’t hear.
This is racism at its heart. These are the daily experiences that put diverse peoples in their place, the ones that weigh on us forever and shape our view of this nation.
After tweeting to Walgreens and anyone who would listen, I was finally contacted by the corporation via twitter. With perfunctory responses they promised to look into the issue, gave me a case number, and committed to call me in 2 business days – as if I’d left my wallet in the restroom or had trouble making a return.
I finally received a brief call from a Mr. Gautreaux on December 28th, the store manager at the Walgreens in question. He apologized for the incident, mentioned how Walgreens strives for customer service and promised to handle it internally. He didn’t appear, however, to understand the magnitude of the situation, nor would he admit that what happened to us was a form of racial profiling and discrimination.
So, with a fever in my belly, I write this letter. I write with the hope that someone will hear me and that these daily oppressions will become intolerable, not only to the corporations that maybe unknowingly commit this acts, but also the bystanders who witness them.