Saturday, June 14, 2008

White Privilege?

I wasn't going to write anymore before CPDD but something happened last night that i wanted to touch on here before i left.

D and I went to see John Stewart last night, who by the way was absolutely hilarious and really really smart. I won the tickets from a radio station (crazy, right?! I didn't think people actually win that stuff either...)

Anyway, after the show we stopped by a local diner for pie (yum...pie). The place was fairly empty with only 4 other booths occupied. In the booth next to us was an African American man, sitting alone drinking coffee. The rest of the patrons were white. This is important because of what happened next. The server came over to us and asked what we'd like to drink (water) and eat (we didn't know yet). Next she brought over the waters and was ready to take our order. At this point the black man became outraged that she was taking our order first and he'd been siting there for 10 minutes. He got up, yelled at her, and walked out. We sat there dumbfounded because we weren't sure what had actually happened. Quickly we tried to assess the scene. He was there first. He was already drinking coffee which means someone must have asked him what he wanted at least once. Was he asked to order before we came in? We don't know. Probably not according to his reaction but he did have a coffee and a water... Now he, absolutely, without a doubt, thought that we were being served "first" because we were persons of white privilege and became rightfully outraged. D and I had no idea what to make of this. If we were certain this was an example of racism and white privilege we would have without a doubt got up and left ourselves. We don't want to eat in a racist establishment and we would have absolutely made a scene also to help illustrate the point that this behavior is unacceptable. However, we weren't sure if this was an example of racism and white privilege, we don't know if he was asked to order before us, if he had the opportunity to order his food along with his coffee like we had, we had no idea. We spent the rest of the night trying to figure out what really happened and whether we should have left. Thinking back to the moment, we probably should have left. Because whether or not the situation could have been justified as not an example of white privilege, it still probably was.

D had another question: was it racist for us to assume that he was angry about not being served first because of his race? Maybe there was no racial motivation to his anger? Maybe he was just hungry, or angry about being there first and having to wait? He could have been white and had the same reaction, then it wouldn't have been racially charged. But he wasn't white. So was it racist for us to assume that he correlated the situation to racism and white privilege and was outraged by this specifically? Maybe his anger had nothing to do with that, maybe he didn't think the server was racist, maybe he just wanted to order his food like everyone else and didn't associate having to wait with his race? But we did. Because to us, if in fact he was made to wait and we were asked to order first, it was a clear example of white privilege. SO... is it racist that we associated his outrage instantly to thinking he was outraged specifically about racism and not something else?


Kandee said...

Here I am, arguing on your other post, and completely neglecting to answer your question here.

No, I don't think it's racist to notice race and how it affects other people. It's fair that you factored in the possibilities, which includes the fact that he may have been treated unfairly because of his race (same as ability, gender, sexuality). It doesn't mean that was the reason, but it very much could have been. Treating him differently would be racist, like what the waitress possibly did.

That's my 2 pennies.

Renee said...

As I was reading your post I immediately assumed that he was angry because you were being served first because of color. I should point out before I go to far that I am a WOC. To be honest if I were him in and I looked around and everyone else was white and I was black my first thought would be race. I think that if there had been more people of color in the cafe your thought might have been racist but clearly that was not the case. As POC when situations like this happen I think about race and gender together. It is usually one of these two stigmatizers that have caused me to be unfairly treated.

When in doubt the best thing to do is not to create a scene. I also don't think leaving in solidarity at this point would have accomplished much as the person in question did not declare that he felt he was being excluded on the grounds of race.

professor what if said...

It's interesting to consider the restaurant story you relate with all markers of socially constructed identity removed. If two people were served first and another person got angry, we could surmise all sorts of reasons as to why. However, when we add social markers to do with race, gender, class, sexuality all sorts of presumptions, stereotypes, etc will inevitably come into play. Even those of us who endeavor to be very socially conscious and non-oppressive live in a world defined by racism, sexism, etc. In effect, we breathe in this type of pollution each day and we are all affected by it. The key is to realize we are being polluted. First, we have to try and 'cleanse' ourselves from societal toxins such as racism. Second we need to work on cleaning up all the pollution. We may aspire to lived in a society where "people are judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin" (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), but this is often easier said than done. Yet, I think giving voice to stories like these and analyzing them is certainly a step in the right direction.

Smirking Cat said...

I was struck more by the fact he yelled at the waitress and left. If I felt I was being treated unfairly, for any reason, I'd have made sure the waitress knew exactly why I felt that way. I don't think it's productive to just walk out without full explanation. Really, if he wasn't willing to explain it, I wouldn't have thought one second more about it; it's his responsibility to explain his feelings more so than it is for anyone else to guess.

phd in yogurtry said...

You left out the most important piece of information here -- what kind of pie?!? Hungry blog readers want to know!

Racism, like sexism, ageism, etc, generally refers to using race to negatively discriminate. The fact that you were considering whether this man was discriminated against because of his race is not racist. It is caring and humanist.

Now, given my profession, I tend to wonder if he doesn't have anger management issues or is unassertive or paranoid. i.e, did he signal he was ready for something besides coffee? But yeah, it does beg the question of race.

Without more information, I would have finished my pie, too. I might have tried to engage the server (been nosey). but I definately would have finished my pie.

Ana Jurney said...


I thought you might be interested in this story:

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being a pedantic asshole, sometimes customers in hospitality act out just because THEY are assholes, and waitstaff, being human and all can forget things, and if it was fairly busy (it doesn't sound like it was quiet) you can just forget about people.

I've done it before (totally unintentional) and had customers react like this and it's not fun - especially seeing as you will always get flogged over it by the people in charge later :s