One day a man named James Conley III strolled into a store, hoping to pick up some new clothes. But once inside, something happened to him that he found disturbing. Conley filmed the incident, and he soon had the support of thousands online.
James Conley III is a black man from Iowa. Recently, the 29-year-old posted a bunch of videos on Facebook documenting a shopping trip that went horribly wrong. Before long they had gone viral, and the reason why might shock you.
It all started in January 2018. Conley decided to take a trip down to West Des Moines to do some clothes shopping. He headed to the Old Navy store, hoping to pick up some new hoodies – but unfortunately, the outing did not go as planned.
What happened at the Old Navy store that day was later described as an “unacceptable experience” by the company’s management. According to Conley, he was “racially profiled” by the in-store staff as he went to the counter to pay.
Conley says that when he walked up to the till to buy some new sweaters, he was asked a bizarre question. According to Conley, staff asked him if he’d also like to pay for the blue jacket that he was wearing. A little taken-aback by the question, Conley simply laughed.
His jacket was indeed an Old Navy branded jacket, but he had received it as a Christmas gift weeks before. To Conley, it was clear that the staff thought that he had stolen it. It was around this point that Conley began filming what was going on.
One of his video uploads shows a staff member carefully examining the label on the inside of Conley’s blue jacket. Then, according to Conley, the store manager, Beau Carter, said that it was normal procedure to scan a customers clothing to check that it had been purchased.
But Conley wasn’t convinced. “Every time I go to this store I have on my same exact winter blue jacket and have never been asked to scan my clothing,” he wrote online. Conley also claimed that “non-black” people wearing Old Navy clothing were not given the same treatment.
Once the staff members had examined Conley’s jacket, they reportedly asked him to pay for it. But Conley wasn’t having any of it. He invited the district manager to take a look at the store’s security cameras to prove that he had arrived in the blue jacket.
After that, the district manager, who only gave her first name, Shannon, was able to confirm that Conley had in fact entered the store in the jacket. But according to Conley, he never received an apology, even though there was proof that he had not stolen anything.
On the way out of the store, Conley filmed himself talking about the incident. “This is like super ridiculous right now,” he says into the camera as he leaves. “I literally just got stereotyped because of the color of my skin.”
Once he posted his selection of videos, Conley’s story went totally viral. It attracted so much attention online that within a matter of days he had amassed millions of views. And people were horrified to hear about what had apparently happened to him.
“What a disgrace. Not only is this so wrong but it happened to one of nicest young [men] I know. Shame on them,” wrote one of Conley’s friends. Other people described the situation as “outrageous,” “ridiculous” and “sickening.”
But people online were full of praise for the way Conley dealt with the difficult situation. “So sorry James! This is outrageous! But you handled it exactly the right way. Hang in there!” While another wrote, “You handled yourself well, brother. Always stay strong in the fight for what is right.”
According to The Independent, shortly after Conley’s story circulated online, the Old Navy store involved actually closed down for a day. Whether or not the closure had any connection with the alleged discrimination of Conley is still unknown.
But Old Navy did post a message on their Facebook page in response to Conley’s serious allegations. “Earlier this week an Old Navy customer, James Conley III, had an unacceptable experience in our Jordan Creek, Iowa store,” it read.
“The situation was a violation of our policies and values, and we apologize to both Mr. Conley and to those we’ve disappointed. All of our customers deserve to be treated with respect.” It was also revealed that the Old Navy staff members involved in the alleged incident had been fired.
But it seems as though the public apology and termination of staff member contracts were not the solution Conley was looking for. Speaking at a news conference not long after the incident, Conley confirmed that he would be taking Old Navy to court over it.
The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Betty Andrews, also made a statement about what happened that day. “It is humiliating. It is hurtful. And it is outrageous,” she said, before adding that it happens often in the U.S.
“Whatever color your skin, you shouldn’t have to deal with that while you’re shopping,” said Conley, who urged people to stop shopping at Old Navy in his videos. What happens with the lawsuit remains to be seen, but for now, Conley is just pleased that he made his story heard.