Monday, August 31, 2009

The Humiliation Of Being Treated Differently

I recognized the couple immediately. Attractive African American lady and dapper gentleman sitting next to me at Rick’s Diner.

They sat next to me a couple of weeks earlier when, while departing, my attention was diverted by another diner asking if she could read the newspaper I left on my table. With my motorcycle gear I almost knocked a chair over turning around to answer her. So I ended up walking right out of the restaurant without paying, only to remember late that Sunday night.

I returned at 7 am the next morning when Ricks opened and paid the tab. Not an uncommon occurrence the person behind the register commented…but rare that people come back.

When I saw the couple again I kidded them that they should have reminded me to pay.

The lady laughed and said that had happened to her with some friends one time at another restaurant. She called the restaurant immediately when she got back to her office and was told not to worry at all and to come back when she could.

She did immediately, only to find out that in the meantime, they had reported her to the police by her tag number and sure enough, she received a visit a short time later from a uniformed cop.

Was the humiliation a coincidence or was it because she was Black? It would have been very easy to report me with a motorcycle and all. Different restaurants, different approaches. Or are some people treated differently than others because of the color of their skin and other characteristics?

I certainly don’t know the intent of the people involved but I could feel in the moment she told me the story, even with a laugh, the humiliation this lady felt and also how differently we each had been treated. And her playful reminder as she left to remember to pay my bill has played over and over in my mind.

People who happen to be African American are treated differently in very subtle and not so subtle ways just because of the color of their skin. Anyone like me who mixes and socializes with people of many ethnic groups might still not pick up on it and many others are in denial. Racism may be too harsh a term but the impact on the individual is just the same.

Those of us with different colored skin will never know exactly how racism, no matter how subtle, must feel. But even today, it clearly scars individuals and undermines society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As an Black American, I can attest that often the differences in treatment are subtle. I was recently in a Whole Foods and the white couple before me paid with a $20 bill. When it was my turn, I also paid with a $20 bill. The difference? The cashier made a point to check the authenticity of my $20 bill using a verification pen. These are the little things that we encounter endlessly. It still hurts.