Ms. Akolo Thompson, a columnist in Guyana’s Stabroek Newspaper, claimed she experienced racism as a potential shopper at Kissoon’s store in Georgetown. She stated she was trailed as she moved around the store; she interpreted her trailing as being targeted (on account of her color or race) as a would-be tief. That in and of itself is not racism, as those of us who study this concept of race and racism or stereotyping (on account of race or color) in sociology would know. Ms. Thompson should consult sociologist (perhaps Nigel Westmaas who studied sociology). Guyanese say there was more racism in the count of votes in Guyana’s elections and in the recounting under way. But there has hardly been any condemnation by Ms. Thompson of such glaring example of racism? Why? Should such silence be couched in terms of race or racism?
Every store around the world has a similar policy as related by Ms. Thompson; stores don’t target people on account of race (to deter theft), and even if they do the policy is not inherently racist. People of all colors and ethnicities are trailed in stores and in places of businesses. And in most instances, they are not trailed or targeted because of a suspicion of being a would-be tief, but rather to guide the customer to the right location in the store and or to facilitate a sale. How about sales clerks going after a shopper who fit a particular profile to get a sale? Is that racist or stereotyping? When I am in a shop, I wish if sales clerk would trail me to guide me to the right location of the item I seek to expedite my shopping.There is nothing inherently racist about a store having a policy or protocol to trail a shopper (or even to watch individuals who fit a particular profile). In Guyana, regrettably, every inter-ethnic act is seen through race lens. I enjoy Ms. Thompson’s column. She is among a few writers who confront the issue of race and abuse of women. I think she is forthright and honest. In her columns, Ms. Thompson was known to condemn everything being seen through a race prism, but she herself has not accepted her own advice. What she experienced at Kissoon’s is not racism. There are many matters and behaviors that are deeply racist in Guyana.
There is more racism in the counting and recounting of ballots and the electoral fraud perpetrated after the March 2 elections in Guyana than any store’s policy of staff following a shopper to help with a sale. But Ms. Thompson has not written about racism and electoral rigging. She is silent on that matter! Should that be interpreted as racism?There must be some parameters of what constitutes racism or racist acts or else every act would be considered as racist. The protocols of the store and the incident so described do not fall in the category of racism. The shopper stated that females she conversed with informed her they had similar experience (being followed) in stores abroad. I too was followed by sales clerk at large stores in my global travel and in Guyana as well. I never saw it as racism. The sales clerks were doing their job of trying to be helpful to boost sales. If they don’t, they could be fired.
I visited Kissoon’s store several times. What I experienced inside Kissoon’s store and on leaving after shopping is not different from that of most other larger businesses – when entering shown around the shop for items I queried about. After purchase (payment and bagging) of items, a security clerk check off (bagged) items against the itemized receipt. One should not take such an experience personally. It is a protocol of shopping. I don’t think any shopper is targeted as a would-be thief. The store’s policy is not an assault on one’s dignity. It is practiced worldwide including when I shopped in major department stores in India, Singapore, Paris, Hong Kong, Rio, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Madrid, London, Seoul and elsewhere. People were not trailed on account of race; maybe they fit a certain profile or it was simply done to facilitate shopping.
At Kissoon’s, my experience was staff were never discourteous; slow at times in their movement which was irritating but not rude or looked down at me or treat me suspiciously that I wanted to steal. But one can never be too less careful. I never experienced or witnessed anyone being targeted or monitored for their movement within or outside immediate environs of the store on account of their race or color. This was the first I had heard of complaint of racism at Kissoon’s. I wonder why the shopper feels she was targeted. Why did she not approach management to voice her concern or make a complaint? And why did she bring up race when her writings were dissuading people to view everything in the lens of either black or Indian.
In Guyana, I shopped and or visited stores and or restaurants whose proprietors were Indians, Africans, Chinese, Portuguese, and Mixed and the procedures inside almost all of them were similar. It is also not dissimilar from my experience in shopping in major stores in the US, Asia, or Europe. At airports and at malls in Europe or Asia, or US, I visited countless stores, many repeatedly over the years. My experience was staff tends to follow shoppers around (to guide them to their intended items of purchase). It is a norm of business.My experience in visiting an African cooperative store (a former KSI of Burnham’s days) in town is no different from that experienced by Ms. Thompson. I observed staff following people (including African shoppers) around to items pulled off the shelves. Were they followed on account of their race? I visited large Indian businesses in town, Parika, Corentyne, etc. and also observed (Indian) shoppers trailed by clerks. Were the stores racist against people of their own ethnicity?
It is pointed out that voters of certain ethnicities are called out during the recounting of ballots underway for engaging in electoral fraud. Is that racist? It is also noted that the victory of a political party, purported to represent a certain race, in the elections was denied and replaced by the loser that represent another race. Isn’t that racist? When shall we expect its condemnation? Ms. Thompson should reconsider her interpretation at what occurred at Kissoon’s.