What’s It Like To Be Racially Profiled? Two Upper West Siders Speak Out

By Carol Tannenhauser

Recent news about racial profiling at various businesses including Starbucks inspired one lifelong Upper West Sider to contact West Side Rag about her experience in the neighborhood.

S., pictured above with her brother J. (they asked that their full names not be used), believes she is being racially profiled by the manager of a neighborhood grocery store in the Manhattan Valley section of the Upper West Side. The kind of racism S. is alleging is “some of the toughest to overcome,” she observed, “because you can’t prove it.”

“It’s been going on for awhile,” she said, in an interview at Earth Café on 97th and Broadway. A map of the world is painted on the wall. Coincidentally, she sat beneath Haiti, where her parents were born, immigrating to America in 1970. S., 30, lives in the apartment she grew up in with her brother, J., 28, who sat beside her.

“A few weeks ago, I asked the manager the price of blueberries,” she explained. “He told me and I said, ‘Okay,’ but he stood over me and followed me until I got to the cashier. I knew what was going on, but I brushed it off. Then, the other day, my mom and I went in to get some cookies and, immediately, of all the people there, he ran right after us to stare at us. My mom said, ‘What’s that?’ I was really angry. I can take it, because I’m kind of a bitch, but I don’t want my mom to go through that, because she’s quite nice. I didn’t complain until I wrote that email to West Side Rag. It’s like my eyes were opened and I said, “I can’t do this anymore, frequent places that disrespect me and my family, based on what we look like.”

By the way, the manager is Hispanic.

“We talk a lot about, ‘oh, white people are racist,’ but plenty of people who come to the U.S. come with their own biases as well,” S. said.

“It’s not racism as much as tribalism,” J. interjected. “I’ve noticed that people have an inherent preference for their own kind, and sometimes that is on the line of xenophobia, fear of people from other places.”

Ironically, both brother and sister said it is people from other places moving into their neighborhood who sometimes seem to fear them.

“Growing up it was fine in Manhattan Valley. It was very diverse. I didn’t feel out of place. Everyone was from everywhere. It was great,” S. recalled. “But in the past 10 years, as the area has become more gentrified, I’ve started noticing a change. Some people who are new to the neighborhood view parts of it and some of the people in it as unsavory. You can see it in their eyes. I’ve experienced the feeling, oh, yes! I notice it when I go to Columbus Square, where the stores are. You see all of those people, with their carts and kids, and, sometimes, they’ll look at you like, “What are you doing here?” I’m a little tired of it. As someone who’s been in this neighborhood my whole life, I don’t want that here.”

“Sometimes people will cross the street when they see me coming,” J. said. “But I’m guilty of the same kind of thing. I’ll admit that I do have a bias against some other black people. I change it by realizing what it is and making decisions not to have the bias. I try to have situational awareness rather than the implicit bias that someone will do something wrong.”

“I don’t want to go about vilifying white gentrifiers or anyone else,” S. added. “We all have prejudices. When I wrote to the Rag, I wanted to be listened to. If anything, I hope my email starts a discussion. Prejudices are a lack of communication and desire to connect. I’d love to hear their opinions, and also those of longtime residents. I’m really curious if they are sharing our experience.”

A word to commenters: this is a serious and sensitive subject, deserving of thoughtful and respectful responses.

NEWS | 48 comments | permalink
    1. JustSaying says:

      And many blacks are racist against whites. It goes both ways and should be stopped.

      • NotImpressed says:

        JustSaying – that systematic racism that has kept whites down must have really affected you.
        I hope you manage to overcome your hardships.

        • JustSaying says:

          NotImpressed- It looks like you assuming I`m white because I said that many blacks are racist against whites. Assumptions about another person without knowing who they really are is in the root of Racism. I suggest you`ll look at yourself before you personally attacking others. and btw I`m a black man married to a Jewish white wife.

      • EricaC says:

        As my father used to say, True, true, but irrelevant.

        As a species, we’re usually better at evaluating one issue at a time. If there is a situation in which the racist attitudes of black people – or, for example, the homophobia of some sub-segments of the black community – are issues, they should be addressed.

        But saying it as you have here, suggesting that black people do not face hostile treatment in our neighborhood, is an easy way of turning a blind eye. Which is wrong.

        • Independent says:

          suggesting that black people do not face hostile treatment in our neighborhood, is an easy way of turning a blind eye.

          Where did the comment you were replying-to do any such thing? “JustSaying” was just saying that “It [“racism”] goes both ways and should be stopped.”. A point that, ironically, is only underscored by comments such as yours and countless others that I’ve seen here at WSR.

          If there is a situation in which the racist attitudes of black people […]are issues, they should be addressed.

          Have you any idea what the relevant stats are for racially-motivated so-called “hate crimes”– Black-on-White vs. the reverse? The discrepancy between the two is quite glaring. Yet, when was the last time you saw any mention of racially motivated crimes committed by blacks against whites?

          Talk about “turning a blind eye”…

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            Indy said:

            “Have you any idea what the relevant stats are for racially-motivated so-called “hate crimes”– Black-on-White vs. the reverse? The discrepancy between the two is quite glaring. Yet, when was the last time you saw any mention of racially motivated crimes committed by blacks against whites?”

            You seem to be saying that Black hate crimes against whites are more common than white hate crimes against Blacks. I thought i would look up the stats. what you seem to be saying is not even close to being true.

            There were 7,321 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2016, the most recent year statistics were available. 94 were “multi=bias incidents”, in other words, it was impossible to attribute them to a single cause of bias. That leaves 7,227 “single bias” hate crimes.

            of these, 4,229 were hate crimes against a certain “race / ethnicity /ancestry.” (the rest were religion-based, or sexual orientation, gender, and disability). by far the largest of this group were hate crimes against Blacks: 2,122, or 50 percent. of these, 1,142 were committed by whites; 88 by a “group of multiple races”; and 202 by “unknown race.” there also seems to be a large number (583) where the race was not tracked.

            So for those where the race was known (2,122-202-583, or 1,337), 85% were committed by whites.

            Despite representing over 5x percentage of the population, there were many fewer hate crimes against whites: 876. of these, 452 were committed by Blacks; 80 by “race unknown” and 158 had no race data. Thus, applying the same formula, (876-80-158 = 638 hate crimes against whites where the assailant had a known race), we see that 70% of those anti-white incidents were committed by Blacks.

            So we can see that there are 2.4X as many anti-Black hate crimes as similar crimes against whites, despite the much much larger percentage of whites in the population; that hate crimes by whites on blacks occur 2.5x as much as the reverse; and that whites have a larger share of hate crimes against Blacks than vice versa.

            incidentally that same year, 834 anti-Jewish hate crimes were reported.the vast majority were committed by unknown race or “race unreported.” however, of those where the race was reported (206), 156 (76%) were committed by whites and 34 (16.5%) by Blacks. So much for the myth of Black antisemitism.

            the data:

            https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2016/tables/table-5

          • Voice of truth says:

            Hear, hear!

      • Chrigid says:

        Compared to what whites have done to deserve anger
        and distrust from blacks, what blacks have done to whites is a pretty damn short list.

    2. Ben David says:

      I wish S and J did not have to suffer the horrible effects of racial profiling…and I wish them well as they encourage respectful dialogue!
      It is important to remember that some racism stems from stupid, disgusting, pointless hatred, while other racial profiling situations are based on fear for personal safety — which is why J honestly says, “But I’m guilty of the same kind of thing. I’ll admit that I do have a bias against some other black people.”
      Whites are approximately 33 percent of NYC population, but they commit less than 2 percent of all shootings, 4 percent of all robberies, and 5 percent of all violent crime. And therefore, most black victims of crime are victims of black criminals. How do we lower that crime rate so that people — black and white — will not let fear of crime and concern for personal safety influence their behavior towards others? Racial profiling is not justifiable, yet our politicians have neglected to meaningfully confront the high crime rates in minority populations in NYC.

      • Daniel says:

        @Ben David Some data source on your miraculous findings? Have you ever thought about under reporting of crimes or the current injustice and rigged systemic approach of how minorities are charged in comparison with a white guy?

        Within the (seemingly never ending) sea of “well behaved” careerists that pay stupid prices for their slice of curated NYC living in every expensive neighborhood of this city – there are undoubtedly crimes being committed. Many go unreported for obvious and non obvious reasons.

        I find your comment just as offensive as the action of the manager who racially profiled the protagonists mentioned above.

        • Ben David says:

          Dear Daniel,

          As someone who is involved daily in the civil rights agenda for all, especially minority residents of NYC living in highest crime areas, I find your insinuation about my intentions repugnant — and hurtful. Accusing me of being the same as the store manager is absurd, and proves how little you know about NYC residents who want to make a better future here for themselves and their families. These brave folks are the first to demand safer neighborhoods, and understand that the “bad apples” are the cause of (much of) this bias.

        • EricaC says:

          Daniel, just as pretending racism doesn’t exist doesn’t help, neither does denying the problems that exist within the community. And the fact that the plague of violent crime affects black victims more heavily than white ones seems like an odd thing to blame the black victimless for. (I assume you do not feel responsible for the actions of Madoff or the East Bay Killer?)

          You also may want to focus on the fact that criminal activity is more closely correlated to economic status and opportunity than to race. And that the denial of economic opportunity is an result of racially based bias. Apparently, people living without hope, useful occupation, education and similar advantages are less likely to spend their days engaged in pro-social activities.

    3. Diana says:

      I completely agree and have experienced the same racial profiling at an UWS store. I am Latina and the store manager is Asian. I had been a customer of this store for 3 decades without any incidents but when they changed management, the way I was treated also changed. I was followed around the store by this manager every time he was on duty. I finally had enough and confronted him. His response was horrible. He cursed at me in front of my wife and son and said I was the problem. This happened at Laytner’s on 82nd st & Broadway.

      • reader says:

        oh my, I am very sorry to hear that.

        Obviously, that guy is not the right person for his job! He also treated me in very harsh way which bothered me when I was there while ago. But I am Asian so I didn’t think it was from profiling but from his inappropriate attitude in general.

    4. NYC10023 says:

      Great article.
      As a white male, I’ve done a lot of soul searching the past couple of years (especially since Trump took office) to come to terms with what I used to laugh about concerning “white privilege”. I never gave it much thought, but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that it is *really* a thing. I’ve stepped out on the sidewalk to have a cigarette and will have 2 or 3 taxis stop to ask me if I needed a ride; then I’ll see a black person come out and nobody will stop. Times Square this past NYE, I was at a friends party on 48th and Broadway we decided to go out and see if we could sneak on Broadway to watch the ball drop. I went behind some barriers where the cops were yelling at some black people to “move back” and one of the police officers stepped on my foot while he was shoving the crowd and he actually took the time to apologize to me for stepping on my foot.

      These are just a couple examples I could give, and honestly I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it before because that’s how I’ve been treated my whole life. I certainly didn’t work for this respect nor do I hold more clout than anyone else… however, fitting the stereotype of being white, I somehow get it.

      That said, I’ve started kind of going out of my way to making eye contact & smiling to those “not like me”. It may not make a big difference, but I’m trying to do my part to make sure that everyone knows that they’re deserving of a friendly gaze/smile and that they’re welcome.

      I dunno, I’m rambling, but hopefully the jest of what I’m trying to say is coming through. I just hope other people take the time to do some deep thinking about how we treat one another and stop this BS before it gets worse and we’re all in our own little bubbles terrified of what those not like us are going to do with us (see: middle America)

      • Karen says:

        I am a middle-aged white lady, and I like NYC10023’s approach. Like him, I do my best to catch the eyes of people not “like me” (on the outside) and to give them a genuine smile. That is my way of expressing respect.

    5. Eva says:

      I appreciate S and J coming forward and sharing their thoughts and experiences.
      I learned something and will think more going forward.

    6. Sean says:

      Without a doubt what she says is absolutely true. The UWS is not it’s old self. It’s really only liberal with regard to women’s issues these days. It’s all about money. Do I have to quote the recent posts on this blog regarding the schools south of where this lady lives. They UWS used to be a rough place with a lot of crime. It was diverse and a very real place. Now I feel like I live in Beverly without the Hills. Yes it has happened mostly in the last ten years. Manhattan is now the Island of the Rich and a place to visit. The newer residents are well educated and from the suburbs. They live in very expensive apartments. I guess their expectation of city life is different than mine.

      • Ruth says:

        You want the UWS to go back to being “rough with a lot of crime”? I really don’t think it’s too much to expect in this day and age that “city life” NOT be rough with a lot of crime. If you really think a city has to have a lot of crime to be “real” then I think you need to modernize.

        Have you been to Beverly Hills? Trust me, the UWS is NOTHING like Beverly Hills.

      • Sherman says:

        You’re right. Things were great on the UWS before those evil suburbanites arrived and gentrified the area.

        The crime, the grime, the decay….those were the good old days.

        • dannyboy says:

          Sean commented: “Without a doubt what she says is absolutely true. The UWS is not it’s old self. It’s really only liberal with regard to women’s issues these days. It’s all about money. Do I have to quote the recent posts on this blog regarding the schools south of where this lady lives.”

          To which Sherman replied: “You’re right. Things were great on the UWS before those evil suburbanites arrived and gentrified the area.

          The crime, the grime, the decay….those were the good old days.”

          Sherman missed Sean’s points almost entirely. Again

        • Sean says:

          The greed is good Yuppies of the 80s transformed the UWS into what it is today. But then there was the crash in 1987. Rudy came along with Disney and dearly beloved Bloomberg and the development which destroyed every single neighborhood. These new neighbors are rich and rude and they think everyone works for them.

          • UWSHebrew says:

            You prefer Times Square with it’s seedy sex theaters to Rudy’s Disney? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

            • Sean says:

              Never said that.

            • 92nd Street says:

              Thank you for pointing that out!

              Times Square of the 70’s and 80’s was AWESOME!

              Dangerous but so much fun, an amusement park for NYC Teens and a Red Light District.

              Today it is an area that no NY’er would enter, just Tourists.

              Ah well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    7. Katha says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I’m so sorry you are made to feel unwelcome in your own neighborhood!

    8. dannyboy says:

      You see all of those people, with their carts and kids, and, sometimes, they’ll look at you like, “What are you doing here?”

      Ironic, that look coming from people who displaced our neighbors “in the past 10 years, as the area has become more gentrified”.

    9. patricia says:

      Thanks to S for speaking up and Thanks WSR for posting! My husband and I often discuss racism and tribalism, and truly agree with what J shared “It’s not racism as much as tribalism,” J. interjected. “I’ve noticed that people have an inherent preference for their own kind, and sometimes that is on the line of xenophobia, fear of people from other places.”

      Yes, racism exits, unfortunately we see and hear of it daily. It’s soul boggling. But tribalism, the fear of the other, seems to be the root. Look at History, people killing one another, trying to conquer one another. It’s time for a consciousness upgrade on this wild round ball flying through space and time that we all live on.

    10. Alison says:

      I recommend everyone read “small great things” by Jodi Picoult to get further insights

    11. nycityny says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. More people need to hear about this kind of reality.

      As a white, middle-aged (old?) man I experience the opposite in retail establishments and I am well aware it is because of how I look. I am practically invisible when I enter a store, to the point of having trouble getting assistance from a sales associate. I know that if I was of a different race or nationality the experience would be completely different with eyes following me everywhere.

      A few months ago I went into a Starbucks and asked for the bathroom code without buying anything. I tried to appear like a “customer” but the folks behind the counter gave me a look like they new I wasn’t. Nonetheless, they gave me the code and I used it. Nobody called the cops on me. It’s a different world for white Americans than it is for others.

    12. NotImpressed says:

      Dear J and S,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences. If everyone is honest, we all have immediate biases that sometimes lead us to have unpleasant thoughts.
      Your honest and important stories are poignant reminders to us all to check those impulses and remember our shared humanity.
      Despite my name – this post impressed me deeply.

    13. MelaninMama says:

      “If anything, I hope my email starts a discussion. Prejudices are a lack of communication and desire to connect.”

      So true, S! You and your family should never have to feel like you don’t belong. I say this knowing how you feel.

      Born and raised in the US, my parents immigrated here over 50 years ago. I have a laundry list of near daily experiences in microaggressions and racial profiling in this city, but that is reserved for another day. I just hope my young NYC born daughter experiences not one iota of what I have.

      Thank you thank you thank you WSR for being opening your eyes and ears and providing an opportunity for this dialogue. I hope these comments continue to be constructive, eye-opening and insightful and create a deeper layer to the community and neighborhood we all love and share. I hope we can look at the people that we pass by on the sidewalk with just a little more humanity and compassion.

    14. Felicia says:

      New York’s a rainbow.
      Move to Utah if you must.
      Enjoy your coma.

      A haiku

    15. Sarah says:

      Thanks to J and S for being brave enough to share their experiences.

      Just a couple weeks ago a black friend of mine was out on CPW with another friend and her husband (who is white). She couldn’t get a cab to stop for her. When they made the husband do the hailing, suddenly–no shortage of cabs. Hard to believe that still goes on in this day and age, but true.

    16. David Ochoa says:

      Thank you S & J. I’ve witnessed the biases other immigrants have brought with them to our neighborhood and how selective it can be. Another profiling is of how our elders are treated. Voices raised automatically as if the person can’t hear. I remember having a good chuckle when an elderly woman asked the clerk, ‘what the hell are you yelling at me for? I can read. I see the amount, right there – pointing to the cash register total – Here. Take my money. That’s all you’re here for.”

      I caught up with her and wished her a good afternoon because she had helped mine be improved. I appreciated her ‘enough is enough’ reaction and stamina to give it back.

      I hope I see either one of you in the neighborhood so I can recognize some remaining realness from here. I’ve been on the UWS, Bloomingdale District 41 years.

    17. stopitnow says:

      A huge part of the problem that nobody ever wants to discuss is the promulgation of racist stereotypes in pop culture. Nobody is born racist and though they may grow up in a home full of love and positive values, the inundation of racial stereotypes in our movies, tv shows, music, and news media is so prolific you hardly stand a chance to enter society without any kind of bias towards those portrayed in such a negative light. Admittedly I haven’t been swayed by experiencing any crime or mistreatment by someone who looks different then me; in fact any mistreatment I’ve ever received has been from someone of my own race yet I am still quite uneasy in certain situations because racial stereotypes have been ingrained into my head all of my life. By acknowledging this I am admitting what I sometimes feel is utterly wrong and only I can change that, but what about so many others who don’t stop to think about it or are much less self aware? We’re doomed if we continue to feed these ideas to people in the form of entertainment/news.

    18. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      I want to thank S and J for bravely opening up this absolutely necessary conversation. And they did so in a very kind and gentle way. also, thank you for allowing your photos to be posted.

      I also want to thank the editor of the WSR and Carol Tannenhauser, always a wonderful writer, for this column. many — not all, or most, but many — of the comments in the threads on issues that broach race, such as the recent school desegregation debate, have been derogatory, and in many cases actually embarrassing.

      I hope that more articles in WSR will reflect that we have a diverse community, not everyone is upper middle class and going to fancy restaurants. I hope that the WSR can become a “friendlier” and more open place for Blacks and Hispanics and people from other groups that have been marginalized to post.

      For example, in the school desegregation debate, the views of the Black and Hispanic parents mostly went uncovered.

      it’s apparent from reading the comments in WSR over the years that we DO have a problem of prejudice and racism in our community. Much more education is needed. this article is a positive step.

    19. Ali says:

      It’s happening in Harlem too. Rents are ridiculous, major corporations now on 125th Street and it seems like a plan to move low income people out and charge market rent. Sure don’t want to be a victim of a hate crime. If the stock market and banks ever leave NYC it will probably be the worse depression ever. We really need to try to get along regardless of our differences. This nation is truly at stake.

    20. Eric Peterson says:

      This issue is not restricted to Manhattan Valley. It is very sad this still continues to this day. She made a very good point about how it is not just white people who are profiling black people. I have experienced a lot of racism from immigrant latinos and others who have come here. They seem to have a preset image of who we are as a people. Their ignorance is astounding. Many of them come from countries with corrupt governments and harsh conditions. You would think they would be less judgemental considering the people who have treated them the worst looked just like them. Maybe one day we will do as Martin Luther King begged us to do. “Judge people by their character”