Friday, July 15, 2005

Wal-Mart and Race

Wal-Mart is shrewd with its messaging as evidenced by its sponsoring of the American Black Film Festival:

We are supporting African-American filmmaking because it makes good business sense," said Troy Steiner, senior media director, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "We would like to see these wonderful films gain a wider audience, so we are making it possible for our customers to enjoy them both on network television and by making them part of their family film libraries.
We think this sponsorship is a great thing but are skeptical about the motivation behind it as well as the timing. These last few days have not been kind to Wal-Mart in terms of alleged race-related discrimination. According to the Boston Globe:

Nine minority customers say they were racially profiled while shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Avon.

In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston yesterday, the consumers alleged they were followed, searched, humiliated, and in some cases, detained by greeters at the store after entering the retail center in 2002 or 2003.
Though Wal-Mart denies any discrimination while searching these shoplifters, when a white teenager and her two black friends were leaving the Avon store only the African American teens were stopped:

In one case, two black Brockton teenagers, Alexandra Bastien, 18, and Toni Gabriel, 18, and their white friend, Courtney Myles, also 18 and from Brockton, entered the store in September 2003. The three teens decided not to buy anything. They allege in court papers that as they were leaving, store employees pulled Gabriel and Bastien aside and searched them. Myles was not searched, but she is a party to the lawsuit.
As Wal-Mart Watch points out, there has been some more bad news for Wal-Mart vis-à-vis its treatment of blacks:

As NAACP members gather in Milwaukee for their annual meeting, the civil rights organization released its 2005 Economic Reciprocity Initiative industry report card. Wal-Mart scored a C in general merchandising and a C- on philanthropic giving to African American organizations and programs.
Wal-Mart Watch also mentions this story about black truckers suing due to alleged discrimination.

And here's an interesting fact sheet from the Coalition for a Better Inglewood about Wal-Mart and racial discrimination.