Furious petitioners are calling on rap superstar Jay Z to back out of his collaboration with Barneys New York for a holiday collection after the high-end retailer remains at the center of a firestorm for allegations of racial discrimination.
The controversy began following a lawsuit against Barneys by 19-year-old customer Trayon Christian, who said he was racially profiled when security guards stopped him under suspicion that he used a fraudulent credit card to buy a Ferragamo belt like the one word by his music idol Juelz Santana.
According to Christian's attorney, undercover police followed and detained him after his purchase of the $350 belt in April, despite providing a receipt and identification. Christian was later released without being charged.
News of Christian's lawsuit prompted other Barneys customers to share accounts of being profiled at the store. Kayla Phillips, a black 21 year old, is suing the NYPD for $5 million. She told the New York Post she was confronted by four undercover police officers after purchasing a $2,500 Céline handbag from Barneys in February.
Both Christian and Philips claim Barneys clerks flagged down NYPD officers to make the accusations after they walked away with their purchases.
The backlash has grown into a publicity nightmare for Barneys, which posted a Facebook statement on Wed. Oct. 23, saying, in part:
“Barneys New York typically does not comment on pending litigation. In this instance, we feel compelled to note that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale. Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights.”
Critics blasted the retailer further, claiming the statement did little to accept fault. Barneys New York tried once again to offer an apology on Facebook, this time from CEO Mark Lee on Oct. 24:
“Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies. Further to our statement of yesterday, we want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. We are a strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service—without exception. To this end, we are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality. To lead this review, we have retained a civil rights expert, Michael Yaki, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission has been the nation’s watchdog for civil rights for more than 50 years. Mr. Yaki will be provided with unrestricted access to all aspects of our store operations. In addition, Barneys New York has reached out to community leaders to begin a dialogue on this important issue.”
Not satisfied with Barneys' attempt to quell the controversy, a Brooklyn resident has launched a petition on Change.org urging Jay Z to end his partnership with the store.
“Barneys lacks any connection with the black and hip-hop community,” creator Derick Bowers said on the petition. “And without his vast wealth and brand power, they would see [Jay Z] the same as they see Trayon Christian. Jay Z should be appalled by Barneys actions, and withdraw all support from them. If he does this, he will send a clear message to all corporations that are likeminded, that this behavior cannot be tolerated any longer.”
Almost 3,000 people had signed the petition by Friday afternoon. Bowers is also selling t-shirts that say “Barneys New Slaves” rather than “Barneys New York.”
Withdrawing from the collaboration, a collection called “A New York Holiday,” may not be so simple for Jay Z. He has a vested interest; twenty five percent of all sales from the project are set to go toward the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. The designs are finalized and set to go on sale Nov. 20.
Jay Z and his team have not yet issued a comment on the situation.
The social media protest remains loud and clear. Overwhelming negative comments are flooding the Barneys New York Facebook page.
“Well Barney's, I hope it was worth it for you. You will notice you have not just lost minority customers, who you obviously don't want anyway, but also quite a few of your preferred (read "white") clients,” one user states. “The perfect accessory…how about handcuffs!” another user says in response to a photo.
Twitter outrage is rampant, as well. Rapper Juelz Santana was one of the first to tweet about the incident, retweeting Metro reporter Cassandra Garrison: “Student sues @BarneysNY for fraud accusation after buying @Ferragamo belt like one worn by @thejuelzsantana.”