How White Fear Influences Black Shopping

There is no greater indication of there being two Americas than the way we shop. There are things, practical and impractical, that white America buys without a second thought that Black America gives a cautionary side-eye. It’s not that these products are inherently unsafe for general use, nor are they inherently racist but depending on who uses said item…

Honestly, this product is the entire reason I am writing this story. I’m an amateur photographer who is slowly dipping his toe into shooting video. I have quickly discovered the amount of equipment photogs and videographers use and regularly carry, including multiple lenses. This should make the TriLens Holster a no-brainer. That is until you look at the ad.

Do you see what I see? If you are Black, you probably see how you become the next Twitter hashtag. Not only does this thing look like you are carrying a huge ass gun on your belt, it SOUNDS like a huge ass gun on your belt. The first thing I heard when I first saw this was a gun being racked. The ad is shot like a John Wick sequel, so; clearly, even FriiDesigns knows this too.

And again, it's not that this product isn’t supremely useful. It’s that I can’t use it safely.

I recently wrote of the calculus Black people often have to perform to gauge whether a situation is some form of casual racism or just something innocuous. The same applies to what we purchase, how we use it, and even how we make said purchase.

The comedian Roy Wood Jr. explains the purchasing protocol best.

“I have got to leave this store with a bag!” Roy’s words aren’t just jokes. They are backed up by history. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for trespassing. Stanley Gracias was tased and arrested after purchasing a bike at… sigh… Walmart. And lest we forget, John Crawford was shot and killed by police after it was reported that he was brandishing a rifle at an Ohio Walmart. It turned out to be a pellet gun the store itself sold.

Even after the purchase, Black folks have to do some serious math, which brings us back to the lens holster. There is a long history of innocuous objects being mistaken for guns. Wallets have been guns. Candy bars have been guns. Cell phones have been guns. I stopped high-fiving out of fear of being mistaken for having a five-barrelled gun.

With items like the lens holster, Black folks have to be Dr. Strange running through all the possible outcomes to determine the likelihood of being shot in the street.

“Ok, so I’m walking down the street with this cannon-looking thing on my hip, and… nope. I get shot.”

“Ok, so I’m taking pictures of ducks in the park. I remove a lens, and it makes that sound, and… nope. I get shot.”

“Ok, so I let my white friend carry the holster. They hand me a lens and… nope. I get shot twice.”

Being Black Dr. Strange is a motherfucker.

The fact is that there are things that are perfectly legal and socially accepted that Black folks can’t do because white discomfort and fear are too dangerous. Philando Castille had every right to carry a firearm. Trayvon Martin had every right to get some candy. Breonna Taylor had every right to sleep in her bed.

There is no way to legislate white fear out of existence. There are no protections that can save Black folks from white perceptions. It has barely proven itself capable of punishing those guilty of the offenses related to their paranoia.

Meanwhile, I just want to buy cool shit and take pictures.

Writer (duh). Bylines @LevelMag @thegrio @NBCBLK. Co-creator of the Good Talk Podcast Network. Don’t forget to add me to your Medium email list!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store