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My Open Letter to Urban Outfitters
An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters:
An offensive, embarrassing, and shameful incident of privilege and racism happened while I was a customer at your store (Urban Outfitters: 00017) on Monday, September 2, 2013.
I’m there for shoes and maybe some pants – but, lo and behold, a long thread of extremely racist ‘Nigger’-laced, post-West-Coast hip-hop comes blaring through the speakers. They must have had eight rappers on there, spitting their angry hearts out.
As a customer of many of your stores in the Chicagoland area, I’m usually confident that the music being played will fit a certain standard – one not intended to offend any potential customer. I’ve even heard that some retail stores receive a stream from headquarters with choice words ‘bleeped’ out.
Someone’s choice to play this song in a store where there seemed to be an all-white sales team, put me and any other present persons of color in an embarrassing situation. Being a young black man and particularly, a young black man living in Chicago – I’ve learned to let things roll off my shoulders. Other options become a losing battle, as a young black man raising his voice about racism is easily tagged as militant, self-righteous, or even worse – the Angry Black Man stereotype. People don’t listen when a stereotype speaks.
So continuing to shop I thought to myself: “This song will be over in a few minutes. How long could it possibly be”.
But as the song went on, my head dropped further to the ground. I asked myself, “Do I, now, have to be ‘that black guy’ – in the middle of all these Lincoln Park white people – that has to tell the manager to please turn that music off?”
Felling isolated, as if I had a camera on my back, I just sank. ‘Nigger’ after ‘Nigger’ after ‘Nigger’, while I was hoping that the song would end – and then, finally, it did. But! The next track came on and continued to use that damn word. I almost got the courage to tell the people behind the desk to turn the music off, but being so angry, would I just reinforce the stereotype of that Angry Black Man? I swallowed my anger, along with my dignity.
Finally, someone must’ve caught wind of the bad vibe and turned off the next disgusting song, mid-track.
I need to let you know why I was offended and embarrassed by that crude song that filled your store for what seemed to be 10 long minutes.
I was offended because of the sales people that were at the store. Forgive me for assuming and I may be wrong, but I don’t believe anyone working at that store understood what it’s like to really be called a ‘nigger’. I don’t believe they know what it’s like to have that word weighing on their shoulders every day. They don’t know what it’s like to be black and walk in Lincoln Park and have white runners do all they can to avoid you. Do they know what it’s like to have to dress a certain way in order to NOT be confused for a ‘nigger’?
The word NIGGER is offensive. It doesn’t matter if a black person is saying it or a person of another color is saying it. It doesn’t matter if Kanye West’s lyrics contain it or Johnny Cash’s lyrics contain it. Quentin Tarantino might use it in his movies, but that doesn’t change the history of the word, it’s meaning, or the impact it can have.
Please don’t be confused by what’s popular and please don’t be confused by the frequent customers you get at your store that THINK they are down. They are not and you are not.
Watchmen - “300”
Dir. Zack Snyder
… and the journey continues.
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