For those who know my daughter through this blog, it is likely apparent that she enjoys and embraces diversity. Growing up in Shaker Heights, that was fairly acceptable and reasonable, and she went out in the world knowing about racism mostly through anecdote and hearsay. Even when she was featured prominently in an ABC special on race relations in Shaker Heights, her experience was primarily with what race relations could be rather than what they really are in many other places. At college, and later in a border studies program on the U.S.-Mexican border, she saw more examples of racism, mostly against Hispanics, but it still seemed relatively systemic rather than personal or overt.
After graduating a semester early, my daughter is working at a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C., and I think she imagined that in a cosmopolitan, sophisticated place such as D.C. with incredible diversity of race, religion and nationality, she was less likely to encounter overt racism than in a border city in Texas. I can only imagine that in her mind, the candidacy of Barack Obama must indicate a thaw in the racist attitudes of Americans. Not a complete elimination of such attitudes, but at least a thaw. So, yesterday, when a group of her fellow think tankers went to a bar after work, and one suggested she invite along anybody she wanted, she invited a fellow "cubicle-mate", who we will call Tyrone, who happens to be black with an accent that some in the office find a bit hard to understand. (My daughter has grown up with many black friends, and has no trouble with it)
As my daughter describes the scene, it was a swanky bar, and they were all dressed well. Tyrone, in a conservative suit, was probably the oldest looking of the group, but they are all in their early to mid 20's. My daughter is 21, and looks young, but she was not carded, nor was anybody else in her group of approximately 15, except Tyrone, the only black person in this particular group. When the waitress took drink orders, she blatantly ignored Tyrone, and walked off without his order, even after carding him. After about 20 minutes of trying to get somebody to take his order, Tyrone finally got a waiter to listen, and the waiter demanded proof that Tyrone could pay. After Tyrone showed him his money, the waiter was still resistant, and Tyrone told him to forget it. My daughter was upset, but Tyrone didn't want to leave or make a scene, so she ordered a drink for him. She was served immediately, was not asked for id or proof she could pay. In deference to Tyrone's wishes, she stayed while he finished his drink and then she left when he did.
Nobody else in the group seemed particularly surprised or upset. The person who arranged the visit to the bar apologized and said she should have known it might be a problem at a nice bar in the South. Tyrone thinks my daughter's naïveté is endearing, but appreciates it. My daughter is appalled and upset, and obviously won't go to that bar again, but doesn't know how to handle the next such invitation when it comes up. Many of her friends might trigger a similar reaction, but not going out with them seems an even worse reaction.
It is hard to believe that it is 2008 and not 1968, but then I guess I share my daughter's naïveté. I wish she didn't have to have it challenged so harshly. Even more, I wish things were different.
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