Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson alleges racism by Walmart employee

Councilwoman Melissa Robinson charged Monday that she was targeted for her race by a white employee at a Kansas City Walmart while shopping last week.

Robinson, who is black, said that she was shopping for her grandmother at Walmart on U.S. Highway 40 when a white employee near the self-checkout quizzed her over where she found an $8 throw blanket. The employee said she needed to check its price, implying, Robinson said, that she had switched the tags on items to avoid paying the full cost.

Robinson, 3rd District, said the incident was traumatic and reminded her of times when black residents weren’t allowed to shop at the same stores as whites. She felt the need to speak up.

Robinson recounted the incident on Twitter Sunday, writing that it amounted to “black people being targeted and treated like thieves.”

“Perhaps blatant white-only signs are making a comeback,” she wrote. “Very disappointed #WalmartBecky would not let me leave until she found my items to price match. You can keep it!”

In a statement, the company said it does not “tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

“We take these allegations seriously and are looking into this matter,” the statement said. “We value our customers and want everyone to be treated with respect while shopping in our stores.”

In an interview, Robinson said she became upset when the employee set out to find the throw blanket and check its price.

“Never have I been in Walmart and went through a line and they said when it rung up, ‘Let me price check that before I let you go,’” Robinson said.

Melissa Robinson@Robinson4kc

When the employee returned, Robinson told her she felt like she was discriminating against her.

“I’m not a thief,” Robinson said she told the woman, “so I need you to figure out how to take this off because I’m not paying for this.”

Robinson said she spoke with a manager, a black woman who said she understood how Robinson felt and apologized. Robinson said she referred her to a corporate hotline, which transferred her to file an ethics complaint.

The white employee, Robinson said, was defensive and did not apologize.

“It was a bit of a scene,” Robinson said.

Though she paid for and took home her other items, Robinson said she left the blanket in question behind.

“I will be trying to make a conscious effort not to shop at that Walmart and maybe go to another location or find other alternatives in which my money is valued and I’m valued as a person being there,” Robinson said.

Robinson said she anticipates getting an email from Walmart within a few business days once the company investigates her complaint. She said she’ll also find out whether she has any recourse through municipal ordinance or federal law to have the incident investigated.

To Robinson, it’s important not to “shrug it off as a microaggression,” or as she called it, a “macroaggression.” She said it’s easy to rationalize something away and think, “Well, maybe that’s something that they do to everyone or perhaps they’ve had a lot of theft during the holidays.”

“We want to go about our daily lives, but it’s just extremely important when discrimination happens, when racism happens, when things that are not supposed to occur — when you know that it feels wrong, it probably is wrong,” Robinson said. “And you have to speak up and say something versus making excuses.”

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