My post yesterday had me thinking about my experiences with racism in my adult life, which has inspired me to write this post. I would like to thank Bicultural Mom and Multicultural Familia for inspiring me to be more reflective on matters of race.
At the age of 20, I secured a job as a server, the first of two such jobs I would work. It was at a family restaurant in a local mall, a chain restaurant that at the time was pretty new and rare to the area. In my training I learned all about the menu, how to upsell, kitchen safety, sanitary serving, and various jargon necessary to the job. Still, there are some things that just do not come up in training.
Reflecting on my time at my first establishment, it seems that it was a pre-requisite to find any reason at all to believe that your customers were horrible people who would never tip you appropriately. My first weeks on the job, as low sever on the totem pole, I was always seated with the people other servers did not want–because they knew from just looking at them that they were awful human beings.
- The elderly
- Groups of women
- Tables with children
- Canadians in particular
You see, they all had good reasons for not liking these groups of people, or so they thought. The elderly are living on their savings, so they cannot tip you more than a dime but they expect their service to be impeccable. Foreigners are naturally stingy because of where they come from and they are too arrogant to learn our language or about our culture (though tipping culture is all that matters). Groups of women are too needy and stay forever. Teenagers are nothing but trouble and don’t even bother to tip the dime the elderly do. Children leave nothing but mess and destruction in their wake. However, no one ever offered up an explanation about why the Canadians were so awful, aside from telling me each time I was sat with one to never expect a tip.
The Canadian thing confused me. I could not for the life of me figure out how the other servers could tell they were Canadian. With my first Canadian table, I just assumed they had told the hostess they were in visiting from Canada or something. When the second came in a day later, I thought perhaps it was the same situation. However, when I was seated with a third Canadian table later that week, I realized that something was up.
Looking at these three tables, I could not see anything that would lead anyone to believe they were certainly Canadian—though I was unsure what these signs would be. I thought about it the entire time I was serving that third Canadian table. When they left, it finally dawned on me.
I had been thinking so hard about what traits everyone could see that identified them as Canadian except for myself that I naively failed to see what these three tables had in common; they were all black.
It is difficult to explain what I felt in that moment. Certainly, I was ashamed for not having realized what was going on and not having taken a stand against it. I was humiliated for having unknowingly become a part of it. I was enraged at the frequency and casualness with which this term was used. I was sad that no one else seemed to have a problem with this.
I attempted to raise my concerns with management, but they just laughed at me. One told me to give it a few months and see what all my worst tables had in common, adding, “And I don’t just mean their tipping.” It wasn’t just that no one cared, they felt that they were absolutely correct in their judgements based on race, and every poorly behaved black table they had ever had vindicated them in their continued prejudice.
If I were to look for commonalities amongst the worst tables I ever had during my serving career, I would be able to find a few. If I were to approach it strictly in terms of race, the honest truth is that the vast majority of them were white. To analyze them further, they were almost always in family groups, displayed anger and irritation with each other which spilled over to me, and appeared to hold the belief that if they were paying for a meal out, they deserved my constant and undivided attention.
Growing up in a small-ish city in the Mid-West, I had encountered my fair share of racist ideology. However, the most racist environments of my 25 years were those of restaurant kitchens. To be honest, what I have written here is not the worst of it by far, but it is where it started, where I received my first adult introduction into a culture where racism was rampant, explicit, and condoned. It was the start of a new awareness of the world around me.