I’ve been following that story from Perris, California about the woman who’s suing the local Wal-Mart for “segregating” the “black” beauty products from “white” ones.

First thing I’ll say on this topic is that any inclination I might have had to be sympathetic to her case was obliterated the moment I learned that Gloria “Forgemistress” Allred was involved.  Nonetheless, it’s an issue that merits a discussion.

Only one of two possibilities is true in this case.  Either Wal-Mart is unfairly racially profiling or scandalous black women are stealing these products so frequently that Wal-Mart has to lock them up.   There’s no middle ground.

Any idea what the outcome might be?  It seems to me that Wal-Mart has to demonstrate that they suffer a higher rate of inventory shrinkage from shoplifting for black beauty products vs white beauty products, right?  I think the plaintiff, Ms. Essie Grundy (no relation to Solomon), has sufficiently explained how this affected her and why it’s discriminatory.  I have no prediction to offer.

This seems to be a growing trend with businesses that take extra security precautions against black crime facing a backlash.  For example, there’s the Philadelphia ordinance to ban bullet-resistant glass in convenience stores in shitty neighborhoods.

The city’s Public Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill Monday enabling Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections to regulate the bullet-resistant barricades that stand between customers and cash registers in many neighborhood corner stores, according to FOX29.

“No establishment required to obtain a Large Establishment license … shall erect or maintain a physical barrier that requires the persons serving the food either to open a window or other aperture or to pass the food through a window or other aperture, in order to hand the food to a customer inside the establishment,” the bill states. It also calls for larger establishments to have bathrooms for customers.

I guess my major question is whether or not you think this sort of demilitarization of retail establishments in the ‘hood is a good thing.  Maybe the threat of black crime, large and small, is overblown and businesses really are letting their biases against blacks lead to unecessary extremes in defense and this is having a very harmful psychological effect on the black community.

Ah, but I have worked in establishments such as retail stores and liquour stores in “city” areas and it’s my opinion that these defenses are justified, but I’m open to opposing viewpoints.  It’s a good thing to check your biases now and then.

So let me ask the question to you this way as a conversation starter: when you watched the video or read about this story for the first time, was your initial reaction closer to “Geez, Wal-Mart is being racist” or “Yeah, black people steal more”?

17 comments

  1. I’ll go first. My first thought was, “those black beauty products probably get shoplifted like crazy.” I have no evidence for this and made an assumption. I thought about it more and decided that more examination was needed.

  2. Some time back , i was at walmart and wanted to buy some quality earbuds, well the more expensive ones $20.00 and up were all under lock and key. either on a locked out metal hook or behind glass.
    Finally tracked down a clerk, and got him to open the case. I asked why the hell are these under lock and key? “Because when they are not, they get stolen regularly. “….. really, yep…

  3. I can somewhat empathize with her. Here in the whitebread suburbs of Atlanta, when you go to Target or Walmart for an eight dollar thumb drive you have to go in search of an “associate” to grab it for you. If I had to do the same for a tube of mascara after I got the thumb drive it would start to piss me off, especially if it looked like it was selective.

    Unfortunately, loss prevention is expensive and they only do it for high theft items. Console video games that are not clearance are always locked up here. Next to the thumb drives are plenty of similarly small items that are not locked up. Stores have to buy the LP systems and hire people to unlock them for people so I doubt they do it capriciously and probably have statistics to target the stuff to lock up. They also have to balance it against loss of sales from people not wanting to bother.

    I buy that stuff on Amazon if I don’t need it right then. My husband will go to the store and deal with the hassle.

  4. Stores have to buy the LP systems and hire people to unlock them for people so I doubt they do it capriciously and probably have statistics to target the stuff to lock up.

    And see, I assumed this was true but I’m not sure why. Do they lock these up because they have hard statistics that these are items shoplifted at a higher rate on a nationwide or regional basis or is it specific to this store? Or did the manager have two or three shoplifters get caught for stealing these and arbitrarily decide to lock them in a case?

    I’d imagine that questions like that are going to matter. Wal-Mart is in the unenviable position of having to prove that products sold exclusively to black people are more likely to be stolen than similar products they can’t use. This seems like a lose-lose lawsuit for them to be caught up in.

  5. The libertarian in me thinks that businesses would not invest in loss prevention unless they had a business reason but I used weasel words because I do not actually run a business or know the statistics. If I were to guess, I would say that the line is a socio-economic one rather than a racial one with some overlap.

    Loss prevention is prevalent even here in the burbs. There are a number of stores I like for the merchandise but hesitate to go into because I am followed relentlessly by the staff. I mean, don’t they have some underwear to roll up for a cute display? I do not think that the case above totally lacks merit, but a company like Walmart should have numbers and if they don’t they are idiots and deserve the settlement that is obviously coming.

  6. So here’s what I’m wondering. Let’s say that Wal-Mart has the statistics to justify additional security measures on those products, decides to fight it out in court…..and loses anyway. The jury figures that even though Wal-Mart has a good reason for placing additional shoplifting countermeasures on these products, the EFFECT of doing so results in actual racial discrimination and causes mental anguish to innocent black people like Grundy.

    Think of the implications of that. Let’s say that even if blacks are more likely to commit a specific crime, it’s racist to collectively subject all black people to additional security measures based on the actions of what an admittedly disproportionate but still few other black people do.

  7. Let’s say that even if blacks are more likely to commit a specific crime, it’s racist to collectively subject all black people to additional security measures based on the actions of what an admittedly disproportionate but still few other black people do.

    Perhaps this would be a good reason to settle. It IS racist to subject certain populations to additional scrutiny, but it isn’t racist to target specific products or locations that have shown a tendency towards shoplifting. I have used products marketed to black people and I am sure that black people have used products targeted to white people. I cannot, however “be” a different race.

    Like I said, I have some empathy for her if every time she wants her preferred eyeshadow she has to find someone to unlock a cabinet and Susie next to her just grabs hers and walks to the cash register. Add up the extra time over a lifetime for a lot of products and it isn’t exactly right. Chances are though, Susie has to have her kid’s video game, SD disk, tablet, camera, etc. unlocked because kids at the rich high school nearby like to steal that stuff because their parents won’t buy it for “reasons”.

    Walmart should offer a quick and quiet settlement and Grundy should take it. It serves as a distraction and if what you suggest happens could end up with all of us paying higher prices for things.

  8. Walmart should offer a quick and quiet settlement and Grundy should take it.

    I don’t know if it’s that cut-and-dry. I’d imagine they’re weighing the potential cost that other people may come out of the woodwork and sue them for other products that are behind lock and key (or any other perceived slight). I know, for example, in the insurance industry they will fight claims of any size that are considered fraudulent/frivolous just to discourage people from doing it en masse.

  9. other people may come out of the woodwork and sue them

    That is a fair point, Santino. There is risk either way.

  10. Santino’s right about the masses of people coming out.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-locking-up-african-american-hair-products-2018-1

    Article also includes Wal-Mart’s official statement (emphasis mine):

    “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart. We serve more than 140 million customers weekly, crossing all demographics, and are focused on meeting their needs while providing the best shopping experience at each store. We’re sensitive to this situation and also understand, like other retailers, that some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products are subject to additional security. Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis using data supporting the need for the heightened measures. While we’ve yet to review a complaint, we take this situation seriously and look forward to addressing it with the court.”

    So they’re fighting.

  11. Looks like our initial assumptions were correct if Walmart’s statement is accurate. They use some type of actuarial to make these decisions. It would surprise me if they did it on a whim.

    So they’re fighting.

    These things take years to get to court and I would be surprised if it makes it that far unless it gets class action status.

  12. These things are absolutely data driven. As is pretty much anything to do with big store retail. Putting security measures on stock means you sell less of them. If that loss in GP is lower than the loss in LP, then you put security on them. (Apples are by far the most stolen grocery item, but the GP high and the LP is low – so it’s not worth doing anything about it. Razor blades on the other hand…)

    Oh, and it’s not racist. Walmart aren’t saying Black people steal more. They’re saying that people steal more of these products than others. The vast majority of shoplifters do it to sell the goods on. The risk/reward of shoplifting your own groceries is too high.

  13. Walmart aren’t saying Black people steal more. They’re saying that people steal more of these products than others.

    Ah, I don’t disagree with that. It’s just that when we’re talking about products that ONLY black people want so that ONLY black people are subject to different treatment, it has the effect of being racially discriminatory.

    We’re living in this time where people’s feelings centered around their identification with a tribe outweigh all other considerations, no matter how rational they might be. Geez, a major news story today is that people are outraged that a woman wasn’t allowed to take her emotional-support peacock onto an airliner.

    You and I both know that decisions like this are data-driven and reasonable, but I’m not confident that it matters with things as they are. I’m wondering what to expect if Wal-Mart loses this case. They either have to remove the security measures and absorb the losses, raise prices on those products to cover the losses from theft, or stop carrying them altogether. The first one is bad for business and the other two will also likely result in accusations of racism.

  14. Any idea what the outcome might be? It seems to me that Wal-Mart has to demonstrate that they suffer a higher rate of inventory shrinkage from shoplifting for black beauty products vs white beauty products, right?

    I don’t think it will even be that difficult. I think they will demonstrate “white” items that are also locked up in those same cases because of theft. She claims they are all “black” items. I’m guessing that’s not the case. And even if every single item in the case is a “black” item, all Walmart has to do is demonstrate it is truly because of theft rates of those specific items (which I’m sure they keep statistics on), and the lawsuit falls apart.

  15. Is it really racist if data is based on evidence?

    Let me try making some statements which are supported by evidence and anybody who wants to can chip in and tell us if they’re racist or not.

    1. You shouldn’t have sex with black people because you’re more likely to get AIDS from them than any other race.

    2. Black people aren’t as smart as white or Asian people on average.

    3. You should stay out of black neighborhoods, as young black criminals frequently target white people. Blacks are pretty safe in white neighborhoods though.

    I know context is everything, but I’m doing this just to show how reasoning based on evidence and feelings can cancel each other out.

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