Oprah, the Ugly Handbag and the Ugly Face of Racism

The Zurich store where they told Lady O where to park it
Today, I read an article about Oprah being snubbed by a salesclerk in Zurich, as the salesclerk made her own assumption that Miss O simply could not afford the US$38,000 bag.

Miss O - how many billion dollars is she worth again?

But this is not the issue - whether she can or cannot afford the bag.

Besides not knowing her customer was one of the most powerful and richest persons in the universe, the salesclerk clearly made an assumption based on the customer's appearance, and whether it was her race, or what she was wearing, that is just not cool. It happens right here as well. People make assumptions about you based on your ethnicity - whether you are black, white, Asian - there is always something that is ascribed to you because of your race.

The salesclerk probably made the assumption that this black woman, as nicely dressed as she was in her Donna Karan, just did not have the moolah to put down on a ridiculously priced, and dare I say, ugly handbag. But how dare she make that conclusion, and worse act on it? It's one thing to THINK it, but it is just malicious to ACT on it. It spits in the face of where black people have come after years of struggle against this same sort of nonsense, and it is just a basic contravention of the general rules of customer service - if you want to keep it simple and non-controversial.

This is a global news story because of the person it happened to, but it happens to a lot of us. I would tend to agree with Miss O that she was discriminated against because she was black. The shop owner's reasoning that it was a mere "misunderstanding" is insulting. Even worse, when she says Miss O was treated badly because the salesclerk did not recognise her. That makes it right?? So if she knew it was Oprah, she would have let her see the bag? What about if I - non-billionaire, average black global citizen - walked into this store? I would be chased out? Seriously!

Having experienced subtle and not so subtle racial antagonism on my most recent vacation, where for example, a bus driver in Rome refused to let me on a bus out of pure spite, I can relate to what Miss O endured. What is even more insulting is when people, in trying to brush off your personal experience and feelings after such an encounter, try to argue that you - black person - are "too sensitive", "not everything is about race", "sometimes you don't recognise you have a chip on your shoulder". These were some of the suggestions I got while trying to explain my feelings of humiliation and anger after such an encounter, by a well-meaning white person, who simply cannot understand and appreciate MY experience, in much the same way that I may not appreciate his.

The handbag at the centre of it all
$38,000?? Really?
It is sad that when I travel to some places, I am not just single global superstar, but I am the "black tourist". I am usually in the minority, and often singled out, for not always uplifting and positive reasons. So yes, Miss O - even as rich and powerful as she is - is just the black woman walking into a store, which maybe in the salesclerk's opinion, she had no right to walk into. The fact that we still have not one or 10 people like this in the world still, but millions, is heartbreaking - in a world we like to consider progressive, and in societies that consider themselves modern, progressive and rate on global satisfaction indices as some of the best places to live. Best for whom though?

It is sad that these types of experiences can sour your experience with a place. I met some of the best people in Rome but the few not-so-nice experiences threatened to sully my perception of the city because it is not just an attack on me, or on Oprah. It is an attack on a wide cross section of the global village - a village that often is not warm and welcoming to everyone living in it.

When not even my money can motivate you to not act hateful, then I have to completely re-evaluate my desire to visit your shop, your restaurant, your city or your country, because at the end of the day, my worth is more than golden, and if you cannot appreciate that, then I know where I can go. I don't think any of us, should subject ourselves to the ignorance and hatred of others, and we need to not just THINK about taking our worth back, but ACT on it.

And that girl was lucky anyone wanted to even see that handbag - black or not - cause the bag is fugly. I would not pay $38 for that, much less $38,000.

15 comments:

  1. I haven't yet heard about this Oprah story but it saddens me. I hate to hear about any kind of racism or prejudice and I'm always dumbfounded when I hear of these kinds of stories. I just can't believe that in this day and age it STILL exists. When more and more gay couples are tying the knot and interracial couples walk hand-in-hand and HELLO! The world is a giant beautiful melting pot of cultures... It just saddens me that this still exists.

    But I do hope that doesn't mean you won't still patronize these beautiful countries or allow certain experiences to tarnish your opinion. Sadly, the world is full of not so great and accepting people... but just around the corner, there are people who would have gladly sold Oprah fugly pocketbooks and smiled as you went to sit on the bus.

    XOXO

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    1. I will still visit but it just means that I will always, in the back of my mind, be very cynical about the experience, which is unfortunate. Still, expected the unexpected!

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  2. I heard about that. Wasn't that a shame? I, myself, wouldn't have handled it with as much grace and charm as Ms. Oprah. If I were in her position, I would have snatched my Black Card out of my purse so quick that sales clerk would've gotten whiplash. lol.

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    1. LOL. I like your style. I would have done the same. Oprah is awesome.

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  3. THAT was the handbag? Puhleeze! Racism is all around us unfortunately and I guess this episode shows it's not how famous or rich you are - it's the amount of melanin in your skin, or how you dress, or your religion. Hi from #SitsSharefest

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    1. And that is just the sad part. It really shouldn't be.

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  4. That was the bag? Puhleeze! Just goes to show that with some people it's not how rich, famous, or well known you are; it's the color of your skin or your nationality or religion or who you love. Hi from #SitsSharefest

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  5. I guess I have been under a rock as I had not heard this story. It is a shame that we still have a long way to go in this world on not making and worse acting on assumptions based on skin color. I am going to share this with a friend who is collecting blog posts related to discussions on race.

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    1. We do indeed have a long way to go but we seem to be taking our sweet time to get there.

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  6. I think these incidents are reminders that as much as we want to think that we are living in a more enlightened age, diehard racism is still alive and shows up in the most unexpected places. And yes, the bag is seriously fugly. #38,000? I don't think so!

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    1. Co-sign. Ugly people in this world, and fugly bags. High fashion can often be a real laugh.

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  7. The shop owner is just as ignorant as the sales woman trying to make excuses for her behavior. The fact that she didn't know who Oprah was would have been more of the reason she should have been polite to her because in all honesty she didn't really know if Oprah had the money to buy that bag or not. I've worked in retail and come face to face with a few celebs in their everyday clothes.

    They can look different than how they look in the movies and on those airbrushed magazine covers. But at the end of the day, I treated all my customers with respect and the best service.

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    1. The customer is king, at least that is what I thought, and does not matter if the customer is in a potato sack or Gucci, brown, red, olive, whatever - and besides that, basic courtesy!

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  8. I could only shake my head. It's disgusting the racism in this world. Not only between white people and POC, but between ALL ethnicities and races.
    I am a mixed female. My family consists of Black, Indian and Hispanic, with a little White thrown in for good measure (I am half Trinidadian half Puerto Rican). Though the majority are Christians, I have some Hindus and Muslims as well.
    Perhaps because of my background, I am able to be more open to different cultures and races, not going in with a certain mindset.
    I have experienced racism. When I was younger, I wasn't "black enough" or "puerto rican enough." I've been told I'm the "whitest black girl ever!" I've been treated with disrespect in the hood and in boutique shops on the other side of the world.
    It's an unfortunate fact of life, that there are stigmas associated with EVERY race and color. Though we think it should not be so, it is. The fact that the store owner tried to downplay it because the clerk didn't know who she was is ridiculous. What if she wasn't Oprah, but quite simply a wealthy black female that earned the right to buy an ugly bag for $38,000?

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  9. I have to agree. I wouldn't have liked that bag either. It's sad that people can't learn to just be kind and respectful to everyone. That is definitely something we need to be teaching our children. Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

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