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Critic Robin Givhan Shares Thoughts On the Barneys Mess

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Robin Givhan. Photo via Getty.
Robin Givhan. Photo via Getty.

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This week's major new story has been the fallout and corresponding media frenzy surrounding allegations of racism and discrimination by luxury department store Barneys. Two young black shoppers, one male and one female, have stepped forward to say that they were profiled by Barneys staff after making expensive purchases at the store. In each case, after they left the store they were stopped by undercover police officers who forced each to show ID. The male, Trayon Christian, was arrested. Now, Barneys CEO is meeting with Brooklyn civil rights leaders and consumers are petitioning Jay-Z to break off dealings with the retailer.

Fashion critic Robin Givhan shared her thoughts on the hullabaloo today on Facebook, and her insight is nicely even-handed. She wrote:

I've been mulling the media storm over the alleged racial profiling at Barneys New York—while I should most certainly be focused on revising book chapters. The two examples, if they occurred as the young man and woman describe, are shameful. Appalling. Indefensible. And I think the response from Barneys' Mark Lee has been proactive, fast and smart image management. He's right: The company needs to figure out exactly what happened and make an effort to make sure it doesn't happen again. And the fact that his statement actually offered an apology was notable— as so many folks tend to couch their "sorry" in the old "if anyone was offended" language. The NYPD's response? It could use some work.
It was also a curious coincidence that the day the first story hit the news, I received a phone call from Chase. Someone had walked into a NY store and used a fake copy of my debit card to make a purchase. Was this discovered because some NYPD officer confronted some shopper after they'd left the store? What did the shopper look like? And what tipped them off? I have no idea.

But for all the demands to storm Barneys, I'm not sure that will change the deeply rooted cultural suspicions that create fertile ground for racial profiling. I'm not sure what will.

But in calling for Jay-Z to make a statement or to pull out of his collaboration with Barneys, I have to wonder: why does it fall to the black guy alone to speak out? He's not the one doing the profiling. Wouldn't it be more powerful and more productive to hear from some of Barneys non-black partners and vendors? Perhaps hear from those who have their own freestanding stores...hear how they have taken note of these alleged incidents and will do all they can to make sure that racial profiling doesn't happen in their own stores and on their watch.... just a thought.

· Barneys Rep Agrees to Meet With Brooklyn Civil Rights Leaders [Racked]
· Petition for Jay Z to Drop Barneys Reaches 150+ Signatures [Racked]
· Another Shopper Comes Forward With Tale of Barneys Racism [Racked]
· Barneys Facing Suit After Discriminating Against Black Shopper [Racked]