An issue that has stuck with me and affected me for a long time is being “randomly checked” in shops.
I became more aware of being watched and followed around shops in my late teens, with one experience in particular really affecting me — even today.
I was 18-years-old. I was wearing a hoodie and had my gym bag with me after finishing a workout. I stopped at a grocery store with my roommate, and as we were leaving the self-serve check out security and an employee approached me and asked to check my bag and see my receipt.
I was embarrassed, to say the least, because people were watching. I was also very confused because they watched me at the self-serve.
After they finished the search my roommate who isn’t Indigenous asked if they wanted to check hers and they said: “No, just hers.”
My roommate questioned them but I was too embarrassed, so I asked her if we could leave.
Seven years later and I still have the worst shop anxiety, if I’m in a shopping centre I will make sure to have receipts with me, I try not to carry big bags with me, and I try not to touch something unless I am going to buy it. I also make an effort with my appearance if I’m going into a shop.
These are just a few things I try and be mindful of when shopping, but the list definitely goes on. I know this is a shared experience for a lot of other mob as well.
Dunghutti man Tre Doyle spoke to me about his experience. He said shopping has become a draining experience in general for him.
“Whenever I walk into a shop I notice which workers clock me,” he said.
“It’s become an almost unconscious thing to make sure I’m smiling and friendly so I’m not perceived as a thief or a threat.”
“I always stop playing music in my headphones as I approach the self check out so that I’m aware of the workers and other shoppers.”
Many people who work in the retail industry and some members of the public do say ‘they’re just doing their job,’ and I agree to the extent where there are signs saying ‘bag searches may be conducted’ or when walking out of shops and staff at the door check everyone who is leaving. But this isn’t always the case.
Bundjalung woman Sherice Jackson says she has the same experiences, and when we react we get labelled as an ‘angry Aboriginal’.
“Situations like these may seem small and minor or that people are ‘just doing their job’ but it’s not. Continuously, Blackfullas are targeted in shops,” she said.
“This makes you feel embarrassed and upset but if you get mad you are just playing into their ‘angry Aboriginal’ narrative so It’s not like you can even stand up for yourself.”
These stories among mob are so common that they stop being spoken about and become normal.
There are many shops that are the biggest culprits for racial profiling but most of the time it’s shops that — and I speak for myself here — I feel like I can’t go into unless I’m dressed ‘fancy’.
How can shops feel like a more inclusive place for everyone while workers can still ‘do their jobs’?
Sherice says she believes shops need to have cultural training and have a one-sized approach.
“I am sweet to show you my bag and maybe even give you a smile when I see that everyone is being checked. But when I am targeted and singled out that’s when it becomes an issue,” she said.
Shops were made for everyone to enjoy, it’s time to do better and make shopping an enjoyable experience for us all.
By Teisha Cloos
Teisha Cloos is a proud Indigenous and South Sea Islander woman and sports journalist for the National Indigenous Times.