Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Experiences Profiling While Shopping

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went shopping the other day in a fancy dress shop, and I felt like the salesperson was watching my every move. It gave me the creeps. I've been seeing all this talk about black people being profiled first by cops and now in fancy stores, but I didn't think it would happen to me. Eventually, I left the store without buying anything, because it made me feel uncomfortable to be followed around. Part of me feels like just leaving did nothing, because the salespeople probably don't even realize how offensive their actions are. But I was afraid I might get arrested or something if I said anything. What should I have done? -- P.O.'d, Chicago

DEAR P.O.'D: It is good that you realize that simply walking out is not enough. Part of the problem with racial profiling is that many people do not realize that they are doing it. Awareness is step one toward ending this offensive behavior. What you can do now is find out the name of the manager and/or owner of the store and write a letter stating what happened and how you felt. Explain that you feel you were treated not like a viable customer, but more like a potential thief.

If you know of others who have had that experience at that store, you may want to have them sign your letter. There is power in numbers. But one letter is enough. If you like, you can hand-deliver it. You can also send a copy to your city government or the press. Most importantly, let the management know that you felt disrespected and ask for an apology.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mom's birthday is next month, and I really want to go home to visit her. The problem is, I can't afford it. I am a college student, and I have tons of debt. I don't have the money to buy a plane ticket -- or even a bus ticket, for that matter. I feel like my mom would really like to see me on her birthday. We haven't seen each other for months. Would it be horrible for me to ask her to send for me to be with her on her big day? I don't know what to do. -- Longing for Mom, Syracuse, N.Y.

DEAR LONGING FOR MOM: Call your mother and tell her that you are missing her terribly and want to spend her birthday with her. Ask her if she would consider sending for you. She will likely be thrilled to know that you want to be with her on her special day. Chances are, if she can afford to send for you, she will. If she cannot, she will still know that the desire is there to be together. Send her a lovely card and talk to her when her birthday arrives.