Four white women were determined to prove a point about racial profiling in the United States when they walked more than a mile around Wolfchase Galleria mall in Memphis, Tenn., on Saturday wearing hoodies — the article of clothing that got a black teen kicked out and arrested only a week earlier.
The group of friends was reacting to an incident that occurred on Nov. 3, when security guards followed a group of black teens around the mall, then kicked them out for allegedly violating the onsite dress code, which bans hooded sweatshirts. The incident was caught on video by former journalist Kevin McKenzie, who intervened to defend the teens, as Yahoo Lifestyle reported. The teen was eventually arrested, and so was McKenzie, who is also black, for filming the incident.
The situation struck a chord with the four friends — Sherry Ennis, Rye Ellen, Rebecca Erickson-Geller and Shannon Arthur. “We saw that video and all of us were shocked — but at the same time, not really,” Geller told Yahoo Lifestyle. “These are young men that did nothing wrong. All these men did was go to the mall and wear hoodies and be African-American.” So the women devised a plan.
They decided to meet at the carousel at Wolfchase Galleria at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday night. “This is blatantly unfair, and we knew nothing would happen to us. We knew before we even started,” Ennis told Yahoo Lifestyle. For the next two hours, dressed in hoodies and jeans, the women slowly strolled around Wolfchase Galleria — a full loop of the first and second floors — to see if they would be targeted for their attire, too.
“We put our hoodies up, and then we put them down,” Ennis said, echoing what Arthur wrote in a Facebook post showing the foursome in their outfits. “There were security guards in tan uniforms, and one of them walked up to me and very politely said, ‘Ma’am, I’d like you to please remove your hood, it’s obscuring your identity.’ So I did, and we continued walking on.”
“We saw people wearing baseball caps. Those caps cover faces more than hoods do. We didn’t witness anyone being asked to remove a cap,” Arthur wrote on Facebook. The dress code policy, posted as a “Code of Conduct” in Wolfchase Galleria, makes no mention of specific clothing that is not allowed on the premises; it simply instructs customers to “wear appropriate clothing.”
“Every time security made a comment, they were always very polite. They never became forceful. We were never told we were trespassing. The security could not have been kinder to us, and we were like, really?” Geller said, recalling that the black teen had been arrested on grounds of criminal trespassing after being followed and confronted by guards.
McKenzie — whose “antenna went up” when he saw law enforcement trailing the boys two weeks before and decided to follow — said none of the black teens had their hoods up in the first place, but they were escorted out anyway. Security guards could be heard telling the boys they were being kicked out simply for wearing the hoodies. “If hoodies are not allowed, we should have been escorted out of the mall. That’s the rationale,” Ennis said.
“We need to shed some light on something that has been going on for far too long,” Geller continued. As white people, she says, “we walk around with this privilege, and we don’t realize that we have it.” She says she and her friends realize the point they’re trying to make is nothing new. “African- Americans have been trying to make this statement for so long, and no one has been hearing it.”
The women say they never expected their Facebook post to make news, never mind go viral, but most of the reaction they’ve received in their community has been positive. Their experiment even caught the attention of Yo Gotti, a rapper with 3.8 million followers on Instagram, where he posted their photo with the caption, “These women helped bring light to the double standard we face in our community and across America.”
But what the friends would really like to see is more awareness of the inequity — and some change. “On a minimum level, I would like to see Simon Malls [which owns Wolfchase Galleria] clean up their code of conduct, so it’s enforced equally, period,” Ennis said. “And I would just like to see a conversation take place in other business like this. Do we treat our patrons equally? And if not, why?” She told Yahoo Lifestyle she fully supports law enforcement, as long as it’s not “a pick-and-choose situation.”
“There’s no question that some members of our community are constantly harassed and traumatized where those with less melanin are given a pass,” Arthur wrote in her Facebook post. “We must do better. I want a better world for my friends, my kids’ friends and my friends’ kids.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Black teen wrongly accused of theft during school assignment on racial profiling
- A teen went to a Florida fair wearing a necklace honoring his deceased mother. When the police saw it, they kicked him out.
- Stranger shows white adoptive mom how to style her black daughter’s hair: ‘Our world needs more people like this’