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Shopping While Black: Still Dangerous

Carole Davis Kennerly, MSW/LCSW, Vice Mayor, Berkeley, Ca. (retired)
Saturday July 28, 2018 - 11:30:00 AM

A story in the newsletter NewsOne entitled "This Too?! Police Called on Black family for Trying on Clothes in the Store" rang a bell with me. Reportedly, this incident happened in the Bay Area. Something similar happened to me in downtown Berkeley at the large department store called Hinks. That was in the late 1960's. I had only recently moved to Berkeley and did not yet know the unwritten color codes AKA Jim Crow laws in Berkeley. While perusing women's hats, a firm voice from a determined Hinks employee sternly advised me that I could not try on a hat. I could purchase a hat but if I did try one on I would be forced to purchase it. The clear implication was if I violated the code, the police would be called. The Hinks employee stood close to me, kept her eye on me to make sure I adhered to the "Color Code". 

Not having been confronted with this directly before, I momentarily thought it was a store-wide policy for all customers. However, a quick glance at the other (white) shoppers plus my verbal clarification with the Hinks Store employee, made it clear the policy applied only to me and by implication to other African American customers. So, to see that this racism is still going on as per the story in this newsletter; reminds me how dangerous the times still are. It is also a reminder of the PTSD suffered by Blacks/communities of color and why racism is increasingly seen as a public health risk. Talking about stress and its direct relationship to chronic illnesses!
Thanks to the Berkeley/Bay Area citizens who later demonstrated and protested Hinks' policies directed toward Blacks and by implication others of color--changes were made. The protesters were from all walks of life and backgrounds. However, I do remember the late Honorable Maudelle Shirek who was one of those determined protesters. She later ran for Berkeley City Council and was the first Black to serve under the new system of District elections in 1986. She served as Councilmember and Vice Mayor for 20 years. We became friends and allies on various issues of the day. She was elected after I retired from the City Council and she became the second African American woman to serve Berkeley as Vice Mayor. I was the first.
History/Her-story is repeating itself.
As Maudelle would frequently say, "the struggle continues"....May she rest in Peace........