The Race Factor: A Personal Essay About the Pernicious Nature of Racial Bias

This past Friday, was my 55th birthday, and like usual my husband, Andrew, took me to an upscale restaurant in Atlanta to kick off the festivities.

He made dinner reservations at the prestigious  #NewYorkPrimeSteakhouse in Buckhead, a high-end restaurant known for serving the best steaks, and providing impeccable service.

Normally, we dine inside, but because of COVID-19, he requested for us to sit outside, in the patio area of the restaurant. Although we knew it would be chilly, we dressed warmly and were prepared for the cool weather.

When we arrived at the restaurant, a young, White hostess greeted us, and then promptly told my husband, who was dressed in a suit and bowtie, that he would need to remove his English cap because the restaurant had a no-hat policy for men.

We frequently dine at upscale eateries and know that they have dress codes, and we happily abide by them. Because we planned to eat outside, however, my husband asked if he could keep his hat on, but she and another hostess emphatically said the policy applied to their outside space, as well. So when we were seated, he took off his hat.

As we dined, however, we noticed that several White patrons were wearing items that were inconsistent with the restaurant’s dress code.

We saw guests wearing flip-flops, ripped jeans, and old t-shirts, but there was one set of guests, in particular, that grabbed our attention.

We had just finished our meal, and we were waiting for the waiter to come back with our credit card and the receipt when we noticed a White man and woman walking toward us with something on their faces.

Because the patio was dimly lit, it took a few seconds to realize that people coming toward us were wearing fully painted, zombie faces–gruesome teeth, and all.

As they passed our table, the guy wearing the Zombie face, actually, told my husband to ‘fuck-off’ because he didn’t like being stared at.

It was then that I realized that the restaurant was more than willing to relax the rules for their White guests, even to the extent of letting a couple of them dine with Zombie painted face masks, but they could not bend the rules and allow an African-American patron to wear his hat outside.

When we got home, I sent a Facebook message to the restaurant detailing the incident, and this evening, someone from the corporate office reached out to me and said that they would forward my complaint to the local establishment. But thinking about our experience led me to two important conclusions.

The first thing that I concluded is that it’s vitally important for our White brothers and sisters to understand that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has to be more than a protest, a march, or some other event.

This incident didn’t happen in some backwoods, small town somewhere. It happened in Atlanta, where we have had multiple racial protests, and where most of those marches have consisted of young, White people.

I honestly don’t think that those hostesses, or the restaurant management, for that matter, realize that they did something wrong. It’s even possible that some of them participated in one of the marches that took place in Atlanta, recently.

But systemic racism is invasive. It’s like cancer. It can show up anywhere, at any time, and often it presents itself subtly like being willing to relax the dress code for White patrons, but not for people of color. The point is this–if Black lives are really going to matter, they must matter in all of the spaces and places we go.

The second thing that I concluded is that racism, and the harsh realities that come with it, have taken its toll on the African-American spirit. Some of us are have been warped by the by lies America has fed up, and others have been whipped to the point of exhaustion.

I have Black friends who actually deny the existence of systemic racism. They think that incidents like the one I described are the exception and not the rule, and when they hear Blacks, like myself, speaking out against it, they feel that it’s much to do about nothing. I used to think that way, too, but I know better, now.

I’ve come to realize that no amount of education, money, or social status can protect a person of color from the pernicious effects of racism. My husband, Andrew, is well-educated, well-paid, well-spoken, and well-dressed, but the only thing the White hostess saw that night was a Black man in a cap.

I also have family members and other friends who are fed up with racial discrimination in America. A few of them have even contemplated leaving the country. However, we must ‘not grow weary in doing well”. As Congressman John Lewis said, we need to “make good trouble”. We must press on in meaningful, constructive ways.

Racism, whether conscious or unconscious, passive or aggressive, is toxic, and it’s imperative that we call it out and expose the injustices when the opportunities present themselves.

No longer do I pray, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” My new prayer is that God would grant me the courage to change the things I can no longer accept.

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