The Jewel Thief Who Made Being Underestimated An Asset

Person wearing three bangles
Via Pexels
Abeni Jones
January 9, 2020

As a child, Doris Payne watched her father beat her mother. “I’m never going to be under the thumb of a man. I’m gonna be the judge of my own destiny,” she recalls thinking at the time. 

She needed money to help her mother escape, but lived in a small town in West Virginia in the ‘30s. What she decided to do changed the course of her life forever.

Using her good looks and talent for persuasive speech - as well as the fact that white people always underestimated her - she acquired a diamond, made some money, and helped her mother escape.

Emboldened by that early success, she lifted millions of dollars of precious gems and jewelry from stores around the world over her 70-year career.

She played with assumptions and stereotypes - she was a rich foreign lady, or a lowly nurse, or any other disguise. But they never expected a Black woman to outsmart them.

After asking to see a few pieces, she’d use quick hands and smooth talk to confuse the jeweler. Then she’d just walk out with one of the pieces she’d been given!

“It’s not stealing because I’m only going to keep what the white man wants me to have,” she says

It can be frustrating to be underestimated. But Payne shows how we can sometimes flip that discrimination on its head and play them at their own game!

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