Rikki Byrd on the anti-Black history of American department stores

I, like many other Black people, have been followed around stores for no reason other than my race. Add general anxiety to the mix and that makes me feel even more uncomfortable to just… browse. Rikki Byrd chronicled this anti-Black racism for Vox, via the depiction of Marshall Field’s in the hit series, Lovecraft Country:

Set in 1950s Chicago, Lovecraft Country’s deliberate insertion of Marshall Field’s exemplifies the show’s commitment to blending horror, magic, and science fiction with historical references to explore racial injustices faced by Black people in the US. Ruby’s determination to work at Marshall Field’s not only references racial discrimination in department stores writ large, but her persistent return to this store specifically is reflective of its impact on the city.

Now a Macy’s in downtown Chicago, Marshall Field’s was once a pillar in the Windy City, transforming the retail experience from merely an errand to an outing worth looking forward to. From its ceiling designed by Tiffany & Co. to its series of retail firsts, the building has a storied history complete with success, failure, and innovation. It also has a history of racism that long impacted Black Chicagoans eager, like Ruby, to work and shop there.

For more stories about anti-Blackness in stores, read this piece from Cassi Pittman Claytor, Traci Parker’s Black Christmas in American Department Stores, and Michael Liscky’s article on racism outliving the American department store.

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