Race Inequality

A Muslim woman was harassed for her hijab while shopping at White House Black Market – this is what happened next

I can’t imagine going to a store and having an employee humiliate me because of what I’m wearing.

Can you?

Entering a store to get what you need, and you’re just doing your own thing and looking for what you need to buy, only to be rudely intervened by a stranger, who’s targeting you by passing Islamophobic remarks? And, to add on, a store employee doing so openly and being defended by a manager when complained about by the victim?

I would be embarrassed, and I would be disgusted.

That’s exactly what I’m feeling right now because a visibly Muslim woman was harassed at the White House Black Market Lynnfield, MA store yesterday. She entered the store late afternoon alone and ready to do some power-shopping. Although she visited the establishment many times before and bought from them occasionally, she often received looks and curt responses, instead of the casual “How are you doing?” that most of us are accustomed to being greeted with while shopping. 

Nadia Alawa sat down with The Tempest and gave a detailed account of what happened. Despite being a paying customer, she faced less-than-positive behavior, and the rest of the incident has ceased to get any better.

Alawa had barely been in the store for 3-4 minutes when a clerk approached her with a “How are you doing?”

Alawa, whose attention at the time was focused on the clothes, responded, “Fine, how are you?” Things shifted when the tone of the employee changed, when she repeated, “No, really how are you?”

At this point, Alawa repeated, “I’m fine, thank you,” and turned to look at her. The clerk, who was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, pointed at Alawa’s traditional hijab and modest clothing, saying, “You must hot dressed like this.” She continued, “I’m hot being in here with the AC dressed this way, so you must have gone in here to get AC because you’re hot in that.”

Asking a person if they’re feeling hot is one thing, but pointing out that a person is in a store merely for the AC because of their attire is completely ridiculous. At that point, Alawa had had enough, put the shirt back on the rack, and replied with a curt “thanks.” As it turned out, the female clerk was the manager on duty at the time.

In Alawa’s own words, “I was actually shaking with anger and then a bit upset about having to go confront the manager, in case she was also bigoted and ignorant. I was very upset when I asked for her contact details, but did not want to argue or enter into a back and forth because she seemed very aggressive in her behavior. [When] my kids arrived, I did not want them getting involved because I was 100% sure that she attacked me because I was alone.

I knew that my kids would have gotten very loud about this kind of treatment, so I wanted her to know I was [not going to let this incident] slide, so she didn’t think it [would be] ok to harass shoppers looking like me. I felt targeted the whole time. She came over towards me with an agenda, which was to intimidate me.”

In her Facebook status, Alawa also noted that “I [stood] there for a minute, …and [felt] so upset and humiliated. A basic shopping experience with two credit cards and cash in my purse and I have to defend my attire and am made to feel uncomfortable by a clerk that very clearly targeted me like a hungry shark out for fodder.

A minute later, I go to the counter to file a complaint, so all I can do is ask for the woman’s name and store card and tell her I will be in contact with the higher manager. At that point, [the employee]’s face changed from snarky and arrogant to slightly surprised.”

Facebook / via Nadia Alawa

Alawa quietly left, embarrassed and humiliated, and rightly upset. Later that day, Alawa’s daughter called and spoke with the manager on duty, who further defended the employee’s behavior, saying that Nadia should have explained herself further. The manager on duty said that Alawa was wrong for “being offended,” and that she had a responsibility to “explain” to the employee why she was feeling harassed.

Explain what? Her marginalization and a justification of why she was wearing what she was wearing? No one should have to justify their attire.

Furthermore, the manager got very agitated when Alawa’s daughter brought up sharing the incident on social media, and continued to say that the employee in question didn’t have a “mean bone in her body.”

The incident at White House Black Market is not a singular one for Alawa – she noted to us that, “I did go to a WHBM store about a week ago in a different location and one of the two clerks there asked if I was hot as I was passing past her. She was elderly and I looked her down and said I was fine. It leads me to conclude that WHBM has no sensitivity and minority training…”

I understand defending employees, but to defend the harassment of a customer by an employee is not only poor management but a prime example of lacking inclusivity policies and diversity training.

This whole incident is distasteful, to say the least, and only serves to show that WHBM has no sensitivity and diversity training. On the contrary, it seems as though a larger, more diverse customer base, besides white women, is not being considered.

To date, the incident seems steeped in profiling and harassment. It indicates cultural ignorance, lack of respect, and stereotyping. Alawa filed a civil rights complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office regarding discrimination in public accommodations. White House Black Market has yet to rectify the situation, although they are currently in communication with Alawa.


07/04/2017: This account will be updated as additional details come to light.