October 29th, 2013
03:13 PM ET

Viola Davis: 'Shopping while black' happens to her 'all the time'

The phrase "shopping while black" may be new to some, but to actress Viola Davis it's the "story of my life."

The celebrated 48-year-old actress, who stars in November's anticipated release "Ender's Game," told CNN at the movie's Los Angeles premiere on Monday night that she can easily relate to the four New Yorkers who've brought complaints of alleged racial profiling against department stores like Macy's and Barney's New York.

In one case, "Treme" actor Robert Brown claimed that he was racially profiled at the Herald's Square Macy's in June, telling media gathered at a recent press conference that at least three plainclothes officers stopped him, accused him of using a fraudulent credit card and detained him inside the store.

The discussion has put the expression "shopping while black" front-and-center as consumers describe being treated with suspicion - something that even a red carpet mainstay like Davis says she experiences "all the time."

"That's the story of my life," Davis said at her film's premiere. "My gosh, I mean, that's been happening since the beginning of time. I'm going to go into the store and you're just gonna have to follow me and you're gonna waste about, I don't know, an hour or half-hour of your time following me because I'm not going to steal anything.”

Davis isn't the only high-profile celebrity who's been subjected to such treatment. During the summer, Oprah Winfrey, too, said she experienced racism while shopping at an upscale retailer in Switzerland.

Filed under: Celebrities

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. ilovechocolate99


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    July 31, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |


    January 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mom

    Judging people based on race is wrong and it's taught mostly at home, you can blame the parents. It happens to all races. As a white person I have received bad treatment in mostly black businesses ranging from just dirty looks (that seem to mean I can't believe you walked in here) while they smiled happily and chatted with the black customers to actually having food thrown at me in a fast food (there was no verbal exchange, they just didn't want me there). I realize it happens to black people in white establishments as well. Either way it's wrong. Grow up people and open your heart and mind. We are all just people.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lilsfgal

    I'm black and had the unpleasant and working in retail for several years before I moved onto office jobs. Sadly "we" are guilty of some outlandishly silly shoplifting efforts in shops. On the other hand, ANYONE can be guilty of shoplifting and every stripe of people commit it.

    I've had mostly positive experiences in stores, moreso as I get older but the key is to just take it stride. Talk up the sales people (and in doing so, speak coherent English and don't raise your voice), be nice, smile and NICELY tell the shopkeeper to back off. If they can't do that, leave and tell them you won't give them your business.

    All else fails, shop online. Only color Amazon cares about is green.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. White guy

    LY – Blacks only make up 13 percent of the total population yet commit 85 percent of the crime. You need to check YOUR facts. Someone needs to explain the meaning of percentages to you, I'm afraid.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • lilsfgal

      OR you can do what my husband does, eat a burrito before you go shopping. They can follow you all they want, but it won't be pleasant.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. White guy

    I'm white. It happens to me all the time, too. Should I cry racist, as well?!?!? Stop being the victim.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. drdementol

    And just when I thought America had grown up.. its still 1962 and this is still Alabama.. sad..

    November 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jj

    We understand this. It's not right, but I had the same problem 'shopping while hippie' many decades ago. Driving was even worse. I got pulled over all the time, for nothing. This problem is wrong, but how do you stop it?
    And honestly – if you ran a small store, no matter what color you are, which race would you feel more comfortable with.
    (the scenario – 3 male teens milling about, after school or after 10pm. Let's throw in some hoodies, for fun. Just try and tell me hidden faces don't make people uncomfortable) (or even worse – 3 boys and one girl. That always changes the equasion...)

    November 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    Are the FBI statistics adjusted for per ca pita? Since Non Hispanic whites account for @ 48% of the population and black people @12% you are going to get skewed numbers going on numerical data alone.
    Go with the former and you will see the higher crime rate by blacks.
    Also the difference in sentencing is unfortunately not a myth.That needs to change.
    It is poverty not race that usually causes non violent crime IMO.
    Just saying, carry on.

    November 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • No, it's per ca chiabatta, not pita, silly!

      Ya gotta love the American educational system.

      November 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. RJack

    Just last week my husband and I visited a Pier One store in St. Louis. We entered the store and went immediately to the section we were interested in and immediately an employee came over and was adjusting merchandise right next to us. We were taking cushions, sitting on them etc. We did not get offended she was just doing her job. BTW we are white she was black. That said, I believe there is plenty of racism here in USA these days.

    November 14, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chucky

    I get followed a lot even though I'm white because I don't dress good. Bothers me but I won't dress good anyhow. Still, not fair to be followed if you're black and dressed good I suppose? Anyhow just putting my 2 cents in for what its worth.

    November 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Reza Kantal

    The fact is she's correct.

    According to the most current data, most shoplifters are WHITE WOMEN OVER THE AGE OF 40, but it's blacks who get targeted for surveillance.

    You can filter this info through whatever racial filters you want, but the facts are not disputable.

    November 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cris

    I solved the "shopping while black" issue a long time ago. I simply make those retail talents available to me to get plenty of items to try -after about 30 minutes of this, employees scatter.

    November 5, 2013 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. Terri

    As a white woman, I am saddened by the anger of the responders. Viola Davis is one of the world's finest actors, and she is not whining, as one of you complained. Show some class, people.

    November 3, 2013 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. BillDe

    Gabby Douglas tells Oprah Winfrey: I was called 'slave' and held back by racist trainers at Excalibur Gymnastics where I trained for the Olympics.
    "And they were like, 'Why doesn't Gabby do it, she's our slave?'"
    "So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out."
    "I was scared to show my potential because they held me back"
    “Why am I deserving this? Because I'm black?"

    November 3, 2013 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Reza Kantal

      What? If you cannot see racism in American society, you must be not blind but utterly stupid. Your's is the most ignorant comment I've seen in quite a while.

      Tell me something, please. Why is that 80% of white teens accused of their first offense are sent home, while 80% of black teens accused of their first offense are sent to prison?

      When you can explain this to me, I will hear you.

      Until then, nothing you say is of any value.

      November 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Up here


    Oh yeah, Get Real? That's reality? Well I suggest that you check the crime statistics that have been compiled by non other than the F.B.I. before you spew your ignorant, racist venom again! Google "crime statistics by race" if you don't believe me. Report after report shows that white males commit more crimes than any race! Ignorant, and uneducated people make statements such as yours without any evidence to back it up. Now YOU deal with reality, and teach some of your family members something!

    October 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  17. mia from California


    October 30, 2013 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |

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