The Problem With Teen Microphone Racism

By Jamilah King Apr 13, 2010

The map above shows the ratio of grocery stores to liquor stores in East Oakland, Calif. It’s probably a map that looks similar to most Black communities in the country. And the disparities it shows are noticeably missing from the latest round of "Teens Gone Wild: Kicking Black Folks Out of Grocery Stores" edition. For the second time in as many months another, presumably white, teenager in New Jersey walked up to a store’s courtesy desk, grabbed a microphone, and told all the black people to leave. This time it was a 14-year-old girl at Whole Foods, in what police are calling a copy-cat of last month’s incident at a nearby Wal-Mart. In this latest case, police arrested the girl and charged her with bias intimidation and harassment, the same charges levied in the previous incident. And in both cases, much was made of the fact that these were individual acts of racism:

"Whole Foods Market has a zero-tolerance policy regarding all matters of prejudice and continues to work with local law enforcement on this issue," said Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra, in an interview with the Record.

Of course, this superficial discussion of individual acts of racism takes away from what could be something useful, like Wal-Mart’s shady treatment of black and low-income workers, or the fact that many Black folks don’t have access to quality, affordable produce. Consider Oakland a case study. Local outlet Oakland North recently reported that in the mostly low-income Black and Latino flatlands areas of East Oakland, there’s only one grocery store for every 93,126 residents. For wealthier — and whiter — neighbors in the Hills, there’s an average of one grocery store for every 13,778 residents (see map here). How’s that for a "matter of prejudice?" So sure, sometimes words hurt. But so does diabetes. Pick your battle.