Throwing Shade

I’ll never know what it’s like because I’m white

Justin Mitchell and Ravin Floyd
Justin Mitchell and Ravin Floyd

When I watched my friend Kimberly “Nikki” Houzah break down and cry for the world to see, my blood began to boil.

Nikki was in a Victoria’s Secret store Wednesday at a mall in Oxford, Alabama, when store employees accused another woman of shoplifting, she said.

The woman was black, and Nikki said the store manager asked Nikki and another shopper, also black, to leave the store.

The women were asked if they were with the alleged thief. They weren’t. And Nikki’s video shows employess asked them to leave.

When Nikki asked why, she was not given an explanation. Employees and security never even asked to search her bags — they just told her to get out. When she got to her vehicle, tears flowed as she told her followers on Facebook of the ordeal. She’s a loyal customer who even uses a Victoria’s Secret credit card.

Because of the color of her skin, she said, she was immediately associated with an alleged crime.

Victoria’s Secret corporate office told they were aware of the incident and were gathering information. Oxford police told the media company no one was arrested for shoplifting at the store Wednesday. The Anniston Star reported Thursday that store’s parent company sent out an apology for the incident.

I met Nikki almost two years ago in Ocean Springs when we attended a wedding shower for our dear friend Ravin Floyd Nettles. She embraced me with a hug, and we chatted in our seats for much of the shower. When I saw the video on my Facebook feed, my heart broke that she was treated like that in a store she supports financially on a regular basis.

Her video has been seen more than 500,000 times, and about 10,000 people left comments offering support and sympathy. Many local media outlets also have interviewed Nikki about the incident.

As angry as I am, though, I’ll never be able to fully understand how Nikki feels.

My eyes see racism every single day. Sometimes it’s a truck driving down U.S. 90 with a Confederate flag unfurling from the back. Sometimes it’s the sound of car doors locking in one of “those” neighborhoods.

Sometimes it’s hearing someone say, “Her name is so ghetto. Why would her mother name her that?” That is so appalling to me, especially because I know so many people with children who would be livid if someone criticized the choices they made as parents — including all of those unnecessary vowels in many baby names I’m seeing monogrammed on a $75 smocked outfit.

When my friend Kirsti Potts saw Nikki’s video, she shared some of her own experiences on Facebook. Kirsti lives in Gulfport and we met years ago through my cousin when they cheered together at Southern Miss. In her Facebook post, Kirsti said she makes sure to carry a very small bag or just a wallet when she goes out shopping, because the looks she gets from store employees are already unacceptable and disheartening.

I have shopped with Kirsti before and we’ve gone out more times than I could count on my fingers and toes, and it makes me sad that I’ve never even noticed she has to do that. I never even realized she has to worry about what she brings out of the house so she is perceived as honest in a retail store. How could I never notice that and never say anything to speak up for her?

I’ll never know what it’s like to be targeted in a business, because I have the privilege of white skin, which so many fellow white people say doesn’t exist. I do not agree.

It infuriates me that others don’t see how good they have it, thanks to their genetic makeup and skin tone. And what’s even more upsetting is we have friends and relatives who face a reality we could never understand in the same way. I will never know how it feels to a black person.

The next time you hear someone say race is not a problem anymore, think about Nikki and or Kirsti, or think about your friends with black skin who feel differently than you do. And listen to what they’ve gone through.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J