Dining While Black: The Accepted Racist Treatment Of Black Patrons
Nothing about the behavior of our group warranted the kind of treatment we were receiving. Besides our group, there were other large groups in the restaurant, who were being properly serviced. We were giggling and talking across the table but our noise level was not louder than what you would expect from a party of our size. We weren’t hooligans. We were regular college kids, some in distinguishable school paraphernalia (including Greek) looking for a short stack of pancakes and a couple of pieces of bacon. And, most importantly, we were patient.
Fed up with our treatment, one of my friends managed to track down the manager. To our surprise and almost delight, it was a black woman. We laid out our case to our “sister” knowing that we were going to get a satisfactory resolution. But our comrade didn’t even crack a smile. Nor did she acknowledge anything that we were saying. Instead, her exact words were, “That’s your problem. And if you have a problem, you can leave!” We were stunned silent. Besides myself, two of my other friends in our party also waited tables. And several of our other friends worked customer services in retail. All of us knew that talking to customers in that tone would be considered a terminable offense. Well by then, one of my girlfriends dropped all pretense of respectability and verbally put a foot in that manager’s behind. That was our signal that it was time to go. We grabbed our friend and dragged her towards the doors, where we were met by some of Virginia’s finest. Four police cars to be exact.
Apparently the police had been called prior to the manager coming to our table to speak with us. After checking all of our IDs and having to sit through the big fat white cop lecture on how “you people need to learn how to act right,” we were let go but given a police escort halfway back to our college campus. It was a somber ride back to campus that early morning. No one spoke. We didn’t even bother with the radio. Some of us were fighting back tears. It was a lot to process for our young minds. We knew our right to good customer service, which was one of the promises of this particular chain restaurant, was being sacrificed for the comfort of the other patrons, yet we couldn’t quite understand how another black person could act as an agent of discrimination against another black person.
During the commotion, a really nice young white couple, who were also patrons in the restaurant, came to us in the parking lot, told us that they thought the whole thing was racial too and volunteered to be our witness if we decided to report this to the chain restaurant’s headquarters. We vowed to take them up on their offer. But none of us did. As angry as we were, we had convinced ourselves that taking it further was pointless. It was only breakfast. It could have been worse. Maybe, there was something we did to deserve our treatment? Honestly, our trepidation at reporting the incident came simply down to the fact that we had very little hope that anything would be done. But we were wrong. Others could have been warned. Notice could have been given to corporate that we would not be supporting your business any longer. Efforts to counter support more respectable businesses in protest could have been organized. Despite their efforts to dehumanize us, the point is that we were not powerless and we should never have to accept unequal treatment as just the way things are.