Hobbycraft refused to sell paint to black man as ‘he may use it for graffiti’

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A black man shopping for paint with his four-year-old son says he was racially profiled and refused service at Hobbycraft after staff said he may use the paint for “doing graffiti”.

Louis Gray, who works for Sport Wales as equality, diversity and inclusion manager, said he wanted to buy spray paint in order to make over his son’s bicycle helmet in the colours of his favourite mountain bike rider.

They were only able to buy the supplies after calling a white relative to make the purchase, Gray said, accusing Hobbycraft of not valuing “the black pound”.

Hobbycraft said it was investigating the incident as a matter of urgency.

Gray said he and his son, Parker, were refused service at the Hobbycraft store on the Harlech retail park in Newport on Saturday afternoon, after the store manager said: “We can’t serve you, you could be doing graffiti with this.”

He said that after he asked them why they made that assumption, staff said they were in fact implementing a “Challenge 25” policy, asking anyone who looks under 25 for ID when purchasing an age-restricted product. Age-restricted products include knives, aerosol paints, Christmas crackers and helium, among others.

Gray said the way the manager and shop assistant looked him up and down before refusing to serve him made him believe he was being racially profiled: “It was the way they were looking at me, I knew it was because I was black and not my age, if you have a protected character you just have a sense for these things. I felt they were trying to justify their bias behaviours and found Challenge 25 as a way to justify their actions.”

It is a criminal offence in England and Wales to sell spray paint to anyone under 16.

“They said to me, ‘you could be a mystery shopper trying to catch us out’,” said Gray, who is 32. “But the shop is on a retail park you have to drive to, and I was with a big four-year-old – who looks six, who was telling them he just wanted to paint his helmet. I haven’t been IDed anywhere for at least eight years.”

He believes he was racially profiled. “I was refused service because I am Black and wearing a Nike tracksuit, and Yeezys [trainers],” he wrote in a viral thread on X.

The thread began: “In today’s episode of wearing your Black skin in public I was racially profiled and refused service at @Hobbycraft – trying to buy paint for an arts and craft project with my four-year-old. I was refused service as I may be about to undertake an ‘incidence of graffiti’.”

Parker wanted to paint his bike helmet in the colours of Fabio Wibmer, his favourite rider from the Red Bull team, Gray said, adding: “We weren’t just buying spray paint, we were buying primer and sealant too. I don’t think you would have all that stuff if you were graffiti-ing.”

He said that after staff refused to serve them, Parker started to cry.

Ultimately, Gray was only able to buy the paint supplies, worth about £48, after calling his white grandad, John, and getting him to go to the tills. He said that when he, his grandad and Parker re-entered the store together, the manager came over, this time adorned with a body-worn camera. “That jarred with me a bit. I thought, this has escalated,” said Gray.

John insisted the paint was for him and was served, using Gray’s Apple Pay. He asked staff of his grandson: “You don’t believe he’s over 25? Look at him! If he was a white guy in jeans and a shirt, would you have served him?”

Gray wrote on X: “Funny how, a white man came and purchased the paint, and did not get IDed. He simply said ‘he’s not with me, I promise I’m over 16 and the paint is for me’. A white promise is held with higher regard than a Black promise? Is the Black pound not worth anything at @Hobbycraft??”

The whole experience was “really degrading”, said Gray. “All I was thinking was, don’t bite, don’t do anything, Parker is watching. I had to be quite passive and permissive, but my insides were absolutely raging.”

But when they got home, Parker asked him: “Did you not get served because you were black, Dad?” The little boy, who is lighter skinned than his father, then asked: “If I looked like you, Dad, would I get served?”

He said: “How do I answer those questions? Hobbycraft have put me in a situation now where I am having to have these conversations with my four-year-old about race.”

Gray said he would like Hobbycraft to apologise to Parker, and suggested their staff needed unconscious bias training. He said he would be unlikely to return to Hobbycraft again.

A spokesperson for Hobbycraft said: “We are so sorry to hear about Louis’ experience in one of our stores. This is absolutely not the service we expect to deliver and we are looking into this as a matter of urgency.”

In an email later sent to Gray, Hobbycraft said they were continuing to investigate. “We would one again like to apologise for your recent experience in our store,” the email said. “We hae a zero tolerance approach to racism … and this is not how we want any of our customers to feel.

“Your situation involved the purchase of age restricted product which requires age verification, meaning all colleagues are trained to ask for ID should they believe the customer is under the age of 25. As you were unable to share ID with our colleagues, they were unfortunately unable to authorise the sale.”

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