Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take

Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take

Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take
Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s always ironic when these sorts of things happen. I wrote in a past post that it’s always timely when a racist incident or just an incident in which race is involved happens in other countries that around the same time that something jumps off in Brazil. In numerous articles on this blog we find black Brazilians consistently detailing how they were followed around by security forces in stores, malls, accused on stealing their own cars, etc.

In a post from last week, several young Afro-Brazilians explained how they took special care with how they dress in public in order to avoid being ‘confused’ with criminals, attracting strange looks or being accused of theft. These are scenarios that black people all over the world can relate to. Recently becoming a part of this list of people who know how black skin is seen as a sin by the powers that (shouldn’t) be is the popular American singer SZA (Solána Imani Rowe), who was recently accused on shoplifting at the beauty products chain, Sephora.

The singer was looking for products from singer Rihanna’s cosmetics line when she was told that an employee suspected her of attempting a “five-finger discount”. After finding that the singer had in fact not stolen anything, the store reacted by shutting down 400 stores for “inclusion workshops”. Um, yeah. Like stores are really gonna interrupt their employees from spying on and harassing black shoppers. We already know that as a general rule, we are suspect number one of ALL companies. Any “inclusion workshops” are simply to deflect any negative publicity that the incident at hand might bring. All of these stores will continue the business of “harassing negros” wherever they go as usual.

Do you doubt it? Really? You must not be black…

RACISM: 8 things black women have to be mindful of that whites can’t imagine

By Natália Eiras

Black women have some concerns that don’t even cross the mind of a person who is white. Among them, being followed inside a store or having their purses searched unreasonably, some of the biggest fears of those who always feel being under the intense gaze of mall security or a police officer on the street. These types of approaches are the result of institutional racism, prejudice that may be invisible to many, but is latent to its victims.

It is important to emphasize that a pessoa negra (black person) should not have to change his/her attitudes to avoid maltreatment in establishments – the error is on the part of those who have a prejudiced reaction.

According to José Vicente, lawyer and rector of Faculdade Zumbi de Palmares (college), in São Paulo (SP), institutional racism is when a person takes an “involuntary protective measure from the presupposition of a belief or value.” “In society, blacks are historically considered cidadãos de segundo grau (second class citizens). Thus, institutional racism causes the subject to trigger all defense mechanisms in the approach of someone black. And he feels authorized and licensed to approach because that person poses a threat, according to the belief of which aesthetic is positive [white people] and negative [black people],” explains the expert.

That is, when a woman is seen as a potential criminal when entering a store because of her skin tone, that establishment made a value judgment and failed to treat her just like the customers of other ethnicities.

To escape dangerous or embarrassing situations, eight women told the Universa website how to avoid suspicious looks or inappropriate approaches. See what they had to say below.

‘I never wear flip-flops. I’m always well-groomed’

Nubiha Modesto, 31, advertiser, from São Paulo

Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take
Nubiha Modesto, 31 years (Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take)

“It’s strangely natural how I try to keep my purse always in sight when I’m inside a store, especially if it’s a department store. I naturalized the fact that they distrusted my presence in such a strange way, that my concern is always to be with my hands in view. Putting my hand in my purse or pocket is avoided at all costs, so I enter the store with cell phone already in hand – so I don’t have to go in my purse if it rings. Thinking about clothing, under no circumstances do I go out with flip-flops or sweats or any stripped-down outfits if I know I’m going into a mall.

Store security loves following me. No matter how I’m dressed, how much I’ve consumed or whether I go there every day. Once, I was in a big, well-known makeup store at JK Iguatemi, the security guy didn’t see the meninas brancas (white girls) stealing products because he was worried about me.”

‘I wear basic clothes not to draw any unnecessary attention’

Kelly Cristina Nascimento, 31, economist, from São Paulo (SP)

Kelly Cristina
Kelly Cristina Nascimento, 31 years old (Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take)

“Being a black woman, I always take care of leaving the house well-dressed, hair combed. The clothes have to be okay, and I can never be in flip flops. I don’t even go to the bakery with flip flops or clothes for staying at home. All to not be confused with a ‘marginal’. Another point is that I usually dress up with more basic and classic pieces because I feel that being stylish attracts unnecessary attention.

In stores, I don’t keep pieces of clothing in my hand for long. If I like something, I use a store bag if it’s a fast fashion or I ask the seller to hold it. And I always approach a sales person before being approached.”

‘I do not open my purse inside the store’

Aparecida de Jesus Santos, 28 years old, cataloger, from Guarulhos, São Paulo)

Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take
Aparecida de Jesus Santos, 28 years old, cataloger (Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take)

“I don’t open my purse in the store under any circumstances.  And if I open it, I do it close to the security so he can see that. I’m not picking up anything. When I leave stores that have detectors I always leave with a very visible hand, so that they see that I am not leaving with anything, because I am terrified to be approached and questioned. This is a trauma because something very complicated happened a long time ago.

In 2013, I took my four younger siblings to the Extra Hypermarket at the Shopping Internacional Mall in Guarulhos to them to buy a toy for Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day). We spent some timegoing bacn and forth, but in the end, they didn’t want to buy anything. Then, we were leaving and security approached us, asking us to show where we had placed each of the toys we had touched. It was awful”

‘I leave items that I will buy very noticeable’

Luana Machel Joaquim Silva, 31, a lawyer from Rio de Janeiro (RJ)

Luana Machel
Luana Machel Joaquim Silva, 31 (Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take)

“I keep the items I’m going to buy very visible so that they don’t think I’ll hide them on my body or in my purse, for example. Sometimes I avoid entering certain stores if I know that I won’t buy any product, just to avoid the embarrassment that is to be watched at all times by security guards, especially when I am in a very elite mall. There’s a store that I love, and I’m avoid it only because of the treatment I know they give the mulher preta (black woman).”

‘I don’t go with a hood on or even with my hands in my pocket’

Jagannatha Laís, 29, veterinary assistant, from São Paulo (SP)

Jagannatha Laís, 29 years old (Shopping while Black: 8 black women explain precautions they take)

“‘I don’t go with a hood on or even with my hands in my pocket, even if it’s freezing. I avoid running after the bus even if I’m late. I don’t do this thing of going into the store to look around, because every time I walk in I’m observed from beginning to end. I’ll just come in if I’m sure I’ll buy something.”

‘I almost never go in’ just to look’ 

Gabriela Aparecida Almeida Barbosa, 31, a commercial analyst, from São Paulo (SP)

Gabriela Aparecida
Gabriela Aparecida de Jesus Santos, 28 years old (Image: Personal file)

“When I walk into a store, I try to go where what I’m buying is. I almost never enter ‘just to look’, because it seems that the security guards follow me with their eyes, thinking that I’ll take something. I always try to keep my hands showing, even when the place only has camera surveillance, so nobody will think I’m grabbing something.

When I was a kid, my sister and I, who is also black, went with a white friend to a neighborhood grocery store. Our white friend wanted to pick up and hide a chocolate, but me and my sister went against it. While we tried to persuade her not to take it, the owner realized what was happening and automatically placed the blame on me and my sister. And he even told the white girl not to walk hang out with us because we were leading her to the wrong path.”

‘In a shop, I stand in the middle of the corridor so they can see what I’m doing’

Aline Jansen Gomes da Silva, 37, a public servant from Rio de Janeiro (RJ)

Aline Jansen
Aline Jansen Gomes da Silva, 37 (Picture: Personal archive)

In store, on the other hand, no matter how much I am made up or dressed, I am always observed, I’ve been followed. Especially in large drugstores. I really enjoyed going to pharmacies, but now I’m losing this habit. But when I enter, I keep a distance from the shelf. ‘In a shop, I stand in the middle of the corridor so they can see what I’m doing’ I’m don’t keep touching the products… It’s horrible, but it’s getting automatic.”

‘I avoid exchanging looks’

Gabriela Ramos Bispo da Silva, 28, content producer, from Rio de Janeiro (RJ)

Gabriela Ramos
Gabriela Aparecida Almeida Barbosa, 31 years old (Picture: Personal Archive)

“I’ve never been through police oppression, but there are things I avoid, like being alone on the street. I try not to walk in the direction, not talk to, not look in the eyes of police, for example. Avoid any other kind of contact they might find threatening or so that they might think I have something.

In stores, since I started wearing my hair natural, I am more watched, followed by security. In these cases, I don’t do anything, because I exist, I am not a thief. I just exist. I’ve never committed any crime, so I keep living my life. Sometimes I ask if the sales person or security guard needs me for something. In pharmacy, where things are small, I get the product I need and keep walking with it on top to keep people from following me.”

Source: Agência Patrícia Galvão



About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Sorry to learn that you are all experiencing such dreadful treatment, why not boycott these stores; pool together resources to start your own businesses, start small and gradually expand. That would demonstrate Black power.

  2. One thing I have always done if I feel I am being followed is to follow the security or salesperson right back. I do not know if it is psychological but it has always works to stop the person from following me. I guess when you go right up next to them in the aisles looking at stuff it makes them feel uncomfortable.

    Even here in North America I do some of those things these folks have mentioned because racism is global and even the sales people who you may be wealthier than automatically assume you are beneath them in certain stores. Now so many of these stores are bemoaning the presence of Amazon putting them out of business, and I just laugh at them because they conveniently forgot how they used to racially profile customers and treat them like shit. Thank God for marketplaces like Amazon to put their asses out of business and you can shop in peace without having to interact with them.

  3. Good article, I would like to say that much of what those ladies do when at stores is the same thing we tend to do here in the U.S.

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