Is actor Forest Whitaker the latest victim of "shopping while black?" TMZ reports that an employee of New York City's Milano Market not only accused the Oscar winner Friday of stealing a sandwich but also searched him in front of other patrons after Whitaker denied being a thief. The pat down revealed that Whitaker had swiped nothing from the market shelves.
Although Whitaker isn't pursuing legal action against the market, his representative did release a statement about the unsettling event. "Frisking individuals without proof/evidence is a violation of rights," a spokesperson said. "This was an upsetting incident given the fact that Forest did nothing more than walk into the deli. What is most unfortunate about this situation is the inappropriate way store employees are treating patrons of their establishment."
I hope the employee in question is disciplined over the incident, especially if Whitaker did nothing more than enter the deli before being accused of stealing. Either the employee is unstable or a racist or both. Whitaker may be a veteran, award-winning actor, but he doesn't have the public visibility of, say, a Denzel Washington, making it possible for him to roam the streets of New York without people knowing that he's a Hollywood star. Given this, Whitaker was treated as many nameless and faceless African Americans are every day across the country--as a criminal. And he's far from the only high profile black person to describe being treated disparagingly in stores. Oprah Winfrey, Condolezza Rice and legal expert Sunny Hostin have all relayed stories of being treated poorly by store personnel. The odd thing about the perception of blacks being shoplifters is that statistics show that white women, such as Winona Ryder and Lindsay Lohan, are the demographic most likely to steal merchandise.
People of color don't have to allow themselves to be subjected to this kind of racial profiling. If you're treated badly in a store, don't patronize it again and report your mistreatment to a manager. At the very least, tell your family and friends about what happened so they know not to support an establishment that treats black customers like criminals.