Canada: One woman shares her experience of retail racism

Liza Egbogah, Dr. Liza, says she has been mistreated as a Black customer everywhere in Toronto, from fast-fashion stores to luxury boutiques.

Liza Egbogah, or Dr. Liza, as she is widely known, is an osteopath, chiropractor and myofascial release expert, credentials she earned following a degree in pharmacology. She’s also a favourite healer for the fashion set, Bay Street honchos, Hollywood stars and major-league sports heroes.

Born and raised in Calgary, with stops in Malaysia and Libya, Egbogah now lives in Toronto with her husband and son. Her office, called the Fix , is in the downtown financial district. A regular TV posture expert, she also does pop-up treatment boutiques at events including the Oscars, the ESPYs and the Toronto International Film Festival. She is flown to film sets for private consults with boldfaced names, for body adjustments, treatments for feet ruined by red carpet stilettos and her signature myofascial facial, popular with celebs before going on camera. In 2017, Egbogah launched her Dr. Liza shoe line of comfortable and fashionable heels.

Dr. Liza spoke to writer Leanne Delap about how being treated badly as a Black customer in Toronto fashion retail—everywhere from chain stores to luxury boutiques—traumatized her to the extent that she stopped shopping in-person a decade ago.

“This movement right now gives people like me — people who often don’t talk about the anti-Black racism we experience every day — an opportunity to give voice to what’s really happening.

My fashion obsession began early. I was maybe 20 or 22 the first time I got a Chanel bag. I was obsessed with Chanel. We were in Florida and my dad said, ‘You’ve been talking about this Chanel for so long, let’s go buy you a bag.’ Now, I don’t think he understood what a Chanel bag was, but he was like, ‘OK, well, we’ll get it for you.’ When I would carry that bag, people would outright just ask me, ‘Is that fake?” There was just no way in their mind that a Black girl could have a real one. I had Chanel costume earrings, too, and people would assume those were fake as well.

Fast-forward 10 years to 2010 and that’s when I said to myself, ‘Oh you know what, I’ve worked very hard, I’m going to treat myself to a (fancy designer) bag. I had been in practice for a few years by then and I was all excited. I thought that trip to Bloor Street would be a reflection of all my hard work. I expected champagne to be poured!

Spending $3,000 of your own hard-earned money on a bag is a huge deal. What did I get? No smile, a look like possibly I’m lost. No one wanted to help me. I wanted to walk out — this was supposed to be a celebratory experience, a treat to myself, and I felt like a suspect.

But I stood my ground and I told them the bag I wanted. They swiped my card and put it in the bag. I knew they were supposed to put the special sticker on the bag, and finish it up with a flourish and a ribbon. It’s a small thing, but I wanted the full, normal treatment. I had to ask for the sales associate to put on the ribbon and the sticker.

I left feeling so deflated, after I had built up this big experience in my head. That was the last time I went to a store in Toronto. I realized I didn’t feel comfortable at any retail stores in Toronto: the staff followed me, they ignored me, they acted like I shouldn’t be there. Even at cheap chain stores at Yonge and Dundas!

Really, the regret should be theirs: I know myself; I want to show them they don’t deserve my money if they don’t treat me with respect. Ever since then, I’ve bought everything in Toronto online, so I don’t have to deal with uncomfortable experiences. I travel a lot, so I make my big purchases in New York or Miami, where I get great service. I guess in those places they are used to seeing more Black people with money. And yes, I finally got my champagne.”