There’s a restaurant in town that serves delicious Mexican food. It’s in my favorite part of town and it has a patio. In my opinion, delicious food and a patio are two of the best things about any restaurant. You’d think this would be one of my favorite restaurants, right? It’s not. I don’t go there. I won’t go there.
When we first moved to this city, my husband and I went to that restaurant quite a bit. We liked the food, but we were always disappointed with the service. The server took too long to take our order, too long to bring us our drinks, too long to bring us our food, and barely made eye contact. Every single time. And, it seemed, no matter when we went there, we were always seated at the table near the kitchen. Our conversation was distracted by doors swinging open, dishes clattering around, and heavy traffic from the waitstaff.
Then, one day, I went to that same restaurant with my co-workers (all of whom happen to be white). We were seated at the front of the restaurant, our server arrived at our table right away, delivered our drinks and our food, and spent time laughing with us and exchanging in small talk. The food I ate that day was the best I’d ever had there. I kid you not.
I chalked it up to coincidence.
So, that weekend, H and I decided to give the restaurant another try. Night and day, I tell you. We got the same shoddy service, the same bad seats, and — even though I ordered the exact same dish — the food wasn’t anywhere near as good as what I’d had when I had been with my co-workers earlier in the week.
“Is it because I’m____________?” You fill in the blank: Black. Poor. Different. Brown. Female. Whatever.
It’s the unspoken question. It’s painful to ask, and it’s painful to answer. In my experience, if the question is being asked, the answer is probably, “Yes.” Whether we’re talking about consistently poor service in a restaurant, or the prevalence of fast food restaurants in neighborhoods with more minorities, or the lower scores on standardized tests in schools in less affluent communities, or the petty and immature political infighting and stalled progress in government, or the segregation that still exists in America at 11 AM on Sunday morning.
We don’t go to that restaurant anymore. We don’t have to. We have other — better — options. But I still find myself asking the question. At the airport the other day, a man cut right in front of me in line. He didn’t say, “Excuse me.” He didn’t make eye contact. He didn’t hesitate. He just stepped into the line in front of me. Maybe he didn’t see me. Maybe he was preoccupied. Maybe he does that to everyone. All I have is my experience. All I know is my context. So, when that man cut in front of me in line, the first thing I asked myself was, “Is it because I’m black?”
What question/s do you wish you could stop asking?
Side note: I wrote three posts about Haiti while I was away. They’re over at TheHighCalling.org, and they are written from the perspective of work. You can read them here, here, and here.