Black Twitter exposes white privilege quite often, but race and privilege don’t have a one-sided relationship. Black people can be more privileged than whites in certain aspects — ability to deflect the sun's rays for example. I have been privileged enough to travel extensively. I’ve been to at least 21 countries to date. When I decided to go to Montréal, Canada for New Year’s Eve with three of my sorority sisters and my best friend, I knew I would be prepared in terms of packing and navigating the city. I let down my hypersensitive “race-dar,” which on a normal basis has me questioning racism from men who step on my feet on the subway and white classmates who can’t seem to remember having met me. But doing so had turbulent results.
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On our last night of the trip, my girlfriends and I had dinner downtown where we were shopping. We had yet to have any French cuisine, so when we stumbled upon this
French restaurant with amazing decor we were sold. I came in after my friends (I was literally tiptoeing up the street — it was icy and I’m too tall to take major falls) to see that we were seated all the way in the rear of the restaurant. It was "because we didn’t have a reservation,” so said the hostess. The restaurant was plenty empty to me, but again my guard was down and my “you’re not you when you’re hungry” meter was skyrocketing.
One of my sisters just didn’t want to let go of the fact that we had been seated so off the grid, especially because we had to send out a bat signal to get waiters to come bring us table bread. But I told her to let it go because I'd already heard the specials and my heart was set on the veal. We had already checked our coats, it would be too much of a hassle to explain our exit — these were all the excuses we made for poor treatment that I personally would have been very vocal about back in the states.
It wasn’t America, it couldn’t be racism — not here where we were so unprepared for it.
But if it looks like racism and it feels like racial prejudice then it almost always is. I think it’s always better to openly address instances of racism. White privilege doesn't excuse white people from discussing race. I don't accept that it's a sole people's responsibility to bear the burden of racism, even if that's how it's systemically designed My best friend ordered some salmon tartare dish that was frankly over-seasoned and gross. So she asked to swap it out for a chicken dish. The waiter told us he couldn’t change the recipe so she had to keep it. I assumed (doing it again) that there was a language barrier, so we kindly re-explained that we wanted a new dish all together. He let us keep the weird salmon dish after he subtly hinted at our ignorance, “did you even know what tartare was?” We sure did know, but that “tartare” tasted more like the tartar that Listerine blasts away. When we got the bill, they charged my friend for both dishes. Naturally, we asked to speak to a manager who initially declined to deal with the altercation. So we spoke to a series of waiters until the manager finally came over. After much back and forth over their policy, which is clearly rooted in poor service, my friend straight up said she wasn’t paying for anything at all unless the suspicious seafood was removed from the tab. They adhered. But, just after we paid, the manager walked by our table and said:
“I wasn’t racist before tonight, but now I am.”
Racism in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations wasn’t hidden. There was nothing covert about the Klan and segregated schools. But we’ve grown up in an era with racism systemic enough to be effective but covert enough to be denied. This was my first experience in a long time with someone so blatant in revealing his prejudice. You don’t know what you’re going to do in situations like this until they happen. So much so that at first, I didn’t do anything. His words were so cutting it was as though I couldn’t hear anything for a few seconds after. Maybe that was the rage setting in
My girlfriend on my left shot up, yelling “Are you kidding me. Because of the color of my skin?” Everything she said after that she echoed it two to three times, just to make sure the entire restaurant could fully understand what had happened. “Bring me my coat!,” she exclaimed. My best friend who had ordered the dish that set everything off took her cash off the table just before they took all the glasses and silverware off — I think they were afraid we’d use it against them.The other black family in the restaurant went immediately to get their coats from coat check — they weren’t going to patronize them either. My other friend had the bartender call the police because she wanted her money I was still quiet at this point but my soror, who is notably quiet by nature, started to get a little loud. That was my trigger to find out how I could get my hard-earned money back.
I didn't say much until I saw the cowardly manager re-emerge from the back room. I yelled at him with language that I’m sure had my grandmother clutching her pearls in heaven. I couldn’t help it after he gave me a, “I have Jewish and colored friends,” spiel, which I interrupted because it’s 2016 and I just can’t. I wish I would’ve broken a glass, I wish I would’ve flipped a table. But then sometimes I’m happy I didn’t explode like that. Why give
that kind of satisfaction of overreaction to this racist? But is it overreaction when there is no code of conduct about how to address something this ugly? At any rate, we weren’t going to get our money back, no matter how apologetic the other waiters were, so what would change? I knew the police would ignore us once they showed up. I cried as I walked out of that restaurant, intentionally brushing shoulders with the police who essentially said we would just have to swallow this one.
I was so upset, strangely proud of my girlfriends but largely frustrated. I omit this when people ask about the trip. The stoic in me believes that admitting my hurt is giving power to people like that manager. My emotion validated racism's effectiveness of getting under your skin, challenging your self-image. Except after going through a wide arch of emotions, I tapped into the clear sense of reason passed down from generations of resilient black women. In the end, I might not ever come to peace with everything but I know for sure I feel bad for the manager living in a world devoid of Black Girl Magic.
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