Shopping whilst Black

Since January I’ve been on a no ‘product’ regime.

I decided to simplify my hair care because I had a lot of products and I was tired of the uncertainty that their endless combinations and permutations brought post styling day.  And I was also tired of trying to decipher the lists of ingredients and determine what they were and whether they were safe.  So I made it simple. I stripped it all back and I decided to only use water, shea butter and oils.

I made an exception for a curlformer installation in May when I silliconed it up and I’ve been washing and co-washing my hair with products: I use Apple Cider Vinegar to cleanse and I co-wash with my all rounder Tresemme naturals.

And then the summer came along and with it an active social calendar and I couldn’t always wait for my moisturizer (the water) to dry before I took down the plaits or twists for a defined afro.  So I decided to invest in a moisturizer that wasn’t just water.  That way I could enjoy a less shrunken afro and therefore less tangles.

I tossed up between Beunique and Root2tip moisturisers.  I decided on the latter; cheaper and available in stores not just online.

So I went to Paks on the Stroud Green Road and I was incongruously directed to the hair weave counter.  It seems that at £8.99 (for 100mls) it is considered a high end product and therefore kept safe from casual shopping hands.

I purchased a pot and placed the receipt and product in my bag whilst walking away from the counter.

I started to browse the aisles.

I felt the continuous unhelpful presence of a shop assistant.  ‘Here’s a basket for any of the products you have picked up’ he enunciated.  Bemused I thanked him and took the basket.  I continued to browse.

I then became aware that the shop assistant was conferring with another worker.  They were looking at me.

I decided to leave, browsing is only enjoyable when you are invisible not when you have a shop assistant (or two) on your shoulder.

I stacked the unwanted basket on the pile and headed to the door.

But I found my path blocked.  There were 3 workers in the doorway.

I was a little confused.

‘Why don’t they move out of the way?’ I thought.

‘Excuse me’ I said.

‘You need to pay for your items first’.

This came from man number 4.  He’s behind the till. The 3 man blockade maintained their stares and silence

‘I don’t have anything to pay for’, I stated.

And then another man stepped in from stage right he was the guy who’d been hovering within a second of me.  I’m now surrounded by 5 men. He snatched my bag, opened it and pulled out the creme that I had purchased and placed it triumphantly on the counter.  If he’d delved a bit deeper into my bag he’d have also seen the receipt.

‘This.  You need to pay for THIS’, he bellowed.

‘I’ve already paid for it I’m not paying for it twice’, I countered.

I’m now surrounded by about 8 men.  It’s all becoming a bit Kafkesque.  And I can foresee any number of absurd endings .

‘WHY don’t you speak to your colleagues at the counter and find out whether I paid for it?’ I uttered indignantly.

He sped off – thinking no doubt that I’m just buying time.

He came back.  ‘It’s been she’s paid for’ – somehow he made it sound like a slur.

And then came the quick meaningless London apologies.

But I didn’t want an apology.  I just wanted a refund; no twist out is worth that humiliation and shame.