How A White Man On Wall Street Ruined A Black Girl Gathering With A Racially Tinged “Joke”

September 14, 2017  |  

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Image via Getty

For those who may not have known, MadameNoire was recently acquired by the media company Interactive One. And Interactive One owns another Black women’s site called Hello Beautiful. You know it. In an effort to forge some type of relationship and a level of camaraderie between the two teams we decided to meet for lunch one afternoon.

We work near the Wall Street area so we decided to eat lunch at a restaurant called Industry Kitchen, situated right across from the water.

We were having a good time. The conversation was flowing. We chatted about everything from whether or not Daniel was wrong for skeeting in Issa’s face to the podcast dedicated to finding Richard Simmons. In the midst of talking, eating, drinking, laughing, two White men, one dressed in an extremely well-tailored suit, come over to our table.

The man in the suit leads.

“Are you ladies from out of town?”

One of the ten of us answered, “No we work down here.”

“Oh, I should have known that.”

At this point, and really from the moment he walked over, I had checked out of the conversation. But more on that later.

“So are you guys celebrating something?”

“Yes, the merger of our two companies.”

Another one of my new coworkers chimed in, “You might read about it in the Wall Street Journal.”

And not missing a single beat, the man said, “Where, in the crime section?”

Record scratch.

At this point, I’m looking around the table like, ‘Did y’all catch that?”

Everyone did.

Thankfully, Charise Frazier, who also wrote about this incident, said, “Did you say the crimes section?”

The suited man, “I was kidding.

Someone in the group said, “It’s not funny.”

By this point, the suited man was trying to change the course of the conversation. He told us that he was going to send over another round of drinks and dessert. Personally, I was ready to bounce but the prospect of free drinks had the other ladies excited. So we stayed. It ended up working in our favor. 

The man’s inappropriate and racially tinged joke was the only thing we could talk about. So much so, that when the waitress made her way back to our table and asked how we were doing, we had to tell her not so great since the suited man who was standing in for the owner that day, had just offended us.

Initially, she tried to gloss over it as well. “Oh, he was just kidding.” We told her what we’d told him, minutes before, it.wasn’t.funny. Eventually she came back and acknowledged that what he said wasn’t cool.

Once she came to her revelation, she left the table and we could see her talking to the two men who’d come over earlier. I assume from their body language and the suited man’s facial expression that she was telling him that we weren’t happy.

Seconds later, he came over to say this.

 

Kudos to him for apologizing. Still, I won’t be returning to Industry Kitchen ever again. Really, it’s no great loss. In addition to being associated with crime, the food just wasn’t that great. Still, my decision to avoid this particular location doesn’t mean I won’t have a similar conversation in the near future.  These types of interactions aren’t uncommon elsewhere in the Wall Street area. From my first week working down there, you can sense that suited White men don’t quite know how to respond to a single Black woman, let alone a table full of us. Either we’re ignored and overlooked or our presence requires some type of explanation. Which is why his initial question of were we out of town or celebrating something was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to ask us “What are you doing here?”

These type of interactions epitomize the definition of microaggressions. The man didn’t tell us we couldn’t eat there  or try to make us feel un-welcomed; still the fact that our presence required a line of questioning rather than a simple greeting just goes to show how hyper-visible we were to him.

And the joke about the crime section is not only offensive, it’s incredibly ironic. If we, a group of Black women, working for a Black company represented some type of criminal element, it wouldn’t be the first time Wall Street had seen it. If anything, Black people have been the victims of the crimes perpetrated by suited White men like him, not young, Black women like ourselves.

That’s the thing that trips me out the most about racism, the projection of negative characteristics onto the oppressed group, when the oppressors have been the greatest agents of atrocities. Black people built the entire country, still we have to fight labels of being lazy and shiftless. White people have terrorized the entire world yet everyone from Native Americans, to Africans and every person of color in between has been painted as immoral and soulless. And today when we point out these facts, we, the people of color, are the ones being accused of being divisive or racist. (See: Munroe Bergdorf.)

The only hope, the only bright side of this situation is the fact that now, unlike in days past, Black people have the option to express our discontent, the opportunity to write about such incidences and share them, with videographic proof, on the internet, and the good sense to opt out of dining at places that really don’t serve us.

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days.” You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

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