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Lithium What it was like to be racially profiled for the first time in a decade

Dec. 10, 2018

If you’re like me, you probably struggle with acne. Or maybe you’ve just taken an interest in skincare products, and Korean beauty has drawn you in. With their expansive ranges of skincare products, Korean beauty brands are definitely alluring, right? Well, my sister and I were hooked, and we finally decided to visit a big-name Korean beauty shop near us. 

The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the store’s brightly lit, green scenery. As soon as we walked in, two employees greeted us. I then asked which masks would work best for acne, so they pointed toward the right aisle. At first I didn’t think anything of them following us to the mask section—I figured they were just doing their job. After picking our masks, we were asked if we needed any more help; my sister and I declined, and we moved on.

It was at this point that I knew something was off. When we moved to the next aisle, the employees moved with us. This continued several times. In my mind, I began to picture other black people who had been racially profiled. I feared the cops would be unjustly called, which would lead to more panic. 

Discreetly, I voiced my concern to my sister. “I think we’re being followed.” 

“I think we are too,”  she replied. Both of us just looked at one another, our gazes both full of fear and hurt.

We hurriedly finished picking out our products, an employee still following behind.

While paying, my mind started to run again and I decided I needed to speak up.

“Next time, I would appreciate it if we weren’t followed.” My voice was demure and respectful, despite how angry I truly was. What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. 

“Okay. Thank you, have a nice day.” 

I felt gutted. 

As soon as we got in the car, we told our mom what had happened. Weirdly enough, she was not surprised. From the parking lot, she could tell we were being followed. She wasn’t sure, though, so she hadn’t intervened. 

Driven by our hurt, my sister and I gathered our thoughts and emailed the company. After days of waiting, we finally heard back from customer service: they’d decided to pass our complaint on to the head of the U.S. store operations. His response? 

“As Mr. S— said, most of our products are sold through the description of the staff. So, she tried to explain to you the effect of cosmetic, ingredient, etc. There was no such racist intent from our staff. But for whatever reason, if you felt that way, we apologize. Also, we spend much time to train to our staff and we [will] take steps to prevent this from happening again.”

There was no such racist intent from our staff. There was no such racist intent from our staff. There was no such racist intent from our staff. That statement began to repeat over and over in my mind. My sister and I felt like we were being mocked and disrespected. We felt as if our efforts had failed, as if the blatant racism we experienced that day did not matter. How could you tell us, two young black women, that what we experienced that day was practically a figment of our imagination because there was no racist intent from those employees? 

After voicing our concerns about that response, our complaint was eventually passed on to HR. It’s been months, and we still haven’t heard anything. 

I just keep thinking—what if things had gone sour? What if the staff had called the police on us? 

Every day, I worry that I’ll be followed around. I worry for my safety. I fear life. And I’d never felt that before being profiled. I can never get back my ignorance, however seemingly blissful it was. Every day that I exist on this earth as a black woman, I risk facing experiences like these.