Whole Foods, Harrison Street, Oakland, California.
I’ve been to a lot of different Whole Foods grocery stores, but I’ve never been to one with as many Black customers as the Whole Foods in Oakland, California. There are also a lot of Black employees there. Even some of the security guards are Black. Then, a few weeks ago, one of the security guards at the store beat a Black customer pretty badly. There were several days of protests, even after Whole Foods fired the security guard. Eventually, the store ended its relationship with the security firm for which he worked. Throughout this period, there murmurings on social media that it was one of the Black security guards who carried on the beating, at least according to the handful of reports that mentioned his race.
Today was only the second time I’ve been to Whole Foods since the beating and the subsequent protests, but it’s the first time I’ve taken a moment to think about how those incidents have impacted the store. I was there just before the lunch hour, and the line at the deli counter seemed just a long as ever; and it seemed like there were more Black employees behind the counter then I remembered from previous visits. There were other Black customers, but not as many as I recall seeing in the past. Then again, I usually go to Whole Foods around the dinner hour, just after work. I probably won’t be able to tell whether or not Black shoppers are staying away from this store until I have a change to go back during the early evening rush.
If there are less Black shoppers, it’s hard to know exactly why. It might be for the same reasons I stayed away for so long: I didn’t want to cross the protest line; and although I was personally satisfied with the actions the store took to try to make sure such a violent incident never took place again, I was willing to privilege the consensus of my Oakland Black community about when it was necessary to stay away and when it was appropriate to return. From the looks of the shoppers and the employees, I feel pretty confident that it’s appropriate to return, and that’s good for me and for all the Black folks who have been using the store to make healthier food choices. (I mean, when the chefs are Whole Food Oakland are really on their game, the yellow corn grits in the food bar are the best grits in Oakland.)