Imagine going to buy shampoo and conditioner at your local drugstore only to find that the products made specifically for your hair texture are locked up behind glass. It's an unsettling reality that's happened to black women time and time again, and most recently to Patricia Fulford during her Saturday morning trip to a Long Island Walmart. "I went to where [my hair products] are usually kept, and I looked up and down the aisle for about a minute or so before discovering that they were in a case locked with a key," Fulford tells Glamour. Eventually, she went to find a manager after waiting for an associate to come back with the key.
But it wasn't the wait that bothered her. It was the implication that black women were more likely to steal than others. After asking the store manager—and then customer service—why hair products made specifically for textured hair were locked up, she was then told those items were frequently stolen in the past. Fulford did end up buying what she needed, but not before posting about the interaction on Facebook. "I need to ask the manager at Riverhead Walmart why is it that the black hair products are the only ones under lock and key and now I have to wait for them to find the key smh," she wrote, along with a photo of products from brands like SheaMoisture, Carol's Daughter, and Cantu behind a glass case. She later ended up returning the products after she was able to buy them without assistance at Target.
As these instances have in the past, her post started to go viral and began garnering national attention: both positive and negative. Fulford tells Glamour she soon deleted her post after receiving an influx of hateful and racist comments—including some in which people accused her of being a thief. "It started taking a toll on me physically and emotionally," she says. "So in order to prevent most of it, I decided to delete it. People were trolling my personal page. I had to change my profile picture and make my page private."
Fulford didn't let the backlash deter her from doing what she felt was right. "I never wanted this fight with Walmart, ok. never," Fulford wrote on her Facebook page. "But it was not right for products to be locked up targeted toward one race. I really don’t care about your negative ignorant comments." According to Fulford's local news outlet, Riverhead Local, she met with a town councilmember and co-chairperson of the town’s anti-bias task force, who went to Walmart to look into the complaint. The president of the NAACP's Eastern Long Island branch said the organization is also looking into the matter.
Walmart gave Glamour the following statement:
"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart. We serve more than 140 million customers weekly, crossing all demographics, and are focused on meeting their needs while providing the best shopping experience at each store. Like other retailers, Walmart uses enhanced security on some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products. Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis using data supporting the need for the heightened measures. Our goal is to ensure that we offer a wide variety of products to our diverse array of customers at the low prices they have come to expect."
Shortly after the incident, Fulford's local Walmart removed the products that were locked up and put them on open shelves with all the rest. "We did it‼️‼️‼️ the locks are off Riverhead and Middle Island they heard US loud and clear," Fulford wrote in a new post on Facebook. "Thank you everyone who supported my efforts so that everyone can have the same shopping experience at our local Walmarts. It was tiring at times but well worth it. Thank you for your encouraging text, calls and posts we did it‼️‼️‼️💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽"
This isn't the first time that Walmart has been accused of racial discrimination. In January 2018, a California woman filed a lawsuit against Walmart. The woman, Essie Grundy, alleged that the company violated her civil rights by keeping African-American personal care products locked up in a glass anti-theft case. Meanwhile, she claims similar products not geared toward women of color were easily accessible and did not require employee assistance to buy. Grundy's suit, filed by women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, refers to California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, a law that prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on account of their race. Allred told Glamour that keeping products marketed to a specific race under lock and key, regardless of security concerns, is unlawful. The case is still in pending in court.
Published at Tue, 12 Feb 2019 23:55:38 +0000