Skip to main content

Jay-Z can fight racial profiling in retail

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Mon October 28, 2013
Roxanne Jones says Jay-Z could keep his deal with Barneys while working with the retail industry to end racial profiling
Roxanne Jones says Jay-Z could keep his deal with Barneys while working with the retail industry to end racial profiling
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Luxury store Barneys accused of racial profiling; hip-hop icon Jay-Z has deal with store
  • Roxanne Jones: Jay-Z, who has fought racism in his career, has ignored calls to dump the deal
  • Jones is on Jay-Z's side; he can make public the everyday damage of racial profiling in retail
  • Jones: All stores need strong policies against racial profiling and must fire staff who do it

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN the Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" and CEO of Push Media Strategies.

(CNN) -- Since the day I rocked my first pair of door-knocker hoop earrings and a baby blue velour Rocawear sweatsuit, Jay-Z has been my guy. His swagger, his street cred gone corporate, his lyrical genius and his uncanny ability to tap into the ethos of my hip-hop generation through the decades have inspired millions from the White House to bleakest corners of Brooklyn. We can't knock the hustle.

We love Jay because he eloquently raps to the world the words we often want to say but keep tucked away behind our public faces. He's been our voice for so long that many of us think it unfathomable that he finds himself tongue-tied and on the wrong side of a racial profiling case at Barneys luxury retail store in New York, after two African-American customers charged that they'd been wrongly detained and harassed by police after making expensive purchases.

For a while now, Jay-Z has been planning a collaboration with Barneys for an "exclusive" line of luxury items for the holidays. In his first statement on why he hasn't gone along with calls to dump the deal, he said, "I move and speak based on facts and not emotion.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

"I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?" he asked after his face was splashed across the New York Daily News.

Not exactly fighting words coming from the man who has spent decades demanding respect and railing against racism. This is the man who led a boycott of Cristal sparkling wine and other products when he believed the companies were disrespecting the black dollar.

Jay's partnership with Barneys -- called "A New York Holiday" -- was designed in collaboration with luxury fashion houses. The products range from a $70 T-shirt, the cheapest item in the line, to a $33,900 watch. Reportedly, the deal may bring in millions, but a quarter of the profits will go to his Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation, which helps underprivileged young people get a college education. And for that reason alone, I say Jay should stay at the table with Barneys and use his leverage to force a change in the retailer's discriminatory security practices. It wouldn't be the first time "dirty money" was flipped and used for a better purpose.

Nearly everything Jay touches goes platinum, from street wear fashion lines like Rocawear to the new Brooklyn Nets' sports arena. So it's easy to understand how Barneys, no longer a must-shop for serious fashionistas, would need Jay and the community that supports him to help return the retailer to relevance.

Jay delivers dollars, especially African-American dollars. We've helped him build a fashion empire and sell more than 50 million albums worldwide while receiving 17 Grammys. And when we saw him at No. 2 on the 2012 Forbes list of hip-hop's wealthiest artists with a net worth of nearly $500 million, we celebrated, because we knew his success was not possible without us. Now, it's time for him to give something back to the hip-hop nation that has made him a global brand.

Retailers have to be vigilant about theft: More than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen each year, more than $35 million a day, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. So what's the "profile" of a shoplifter? FBI studies show that 70% of people arrested for shoplifting are white. In some regions of the country, two-thirds are white women. And experts on retail crime prevention say most theft is committed by the employees.

The two Barneys customers, Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, said last week that they were racially profiled and detained by police after making expensive purchases.

Christian sued Barneys, saying he was accused of fraud after using his debit card to buy a $349 Ferragamo belt in April. Philips filed a notice of claim saying she would sue after she was stopped by detectives outside the store when she bought a $2,500 Celine handbag in February.

It's nearly impossible to find a black person, including myself, who can say he or she has never been harassed while shopping. It happens so frequently that we've accepted it as a normal part of life.

It's one reason why I've never spent my hard-earned cash in places that make me feel unwelcomed. It's just not worth the frustration of dealing with ignorant retail workers, especially in upscale department stores, who too many times show disdain for the very customers who make their jobs possible.

For now, I'm sticking with Jay and trusting that he'll find a way to step up and lead a national dialogue about retail racial profiling. It's a conversation that is long overdue. The trick with having power is learning how to wield it wisely. Staying at the table and confronting Barneys is a stronger position from which to negotiate change. And Jay, along with other community activists, is the right voice to further this conversation.

As the criticism grew, Barneys said Thursday that it had retained a civil rights expert to help review its procedures. CEO Mark Lee offered his "sincere regret and deepest apologies."

But beyond a review and apology, Barneys and other retailers need to have a strong, clearly defined policies against racial profiling. If members of the security or sales staff are found guilty of this offense, they should be fired. All employees should be screened for racial biases when they are hired and be trained on how to respectfully serve the diverse customers who are keeping the doors open. Because retailers like Barneys need us a lot more than we'll ever need them.

Racial profiling has been business as usual for too long. Jay has the power to bring change. And I'm betting Brooklyn's finest will rise to the occasion.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT