The worst thing about racism is when you’re not quite sure whether or not you’ve just experienced racism. When it creeps on you slowly and leaves you frustrated and paranoid.
I was supporting my homegirl who had a poetry reading in the Mission District of San Francisco last night. Her reading went very well as she tore through a 15 minute set reciting well-crafted poetry about blackness, queer identity, and family. When her set was over The Poet, her friend, and myself walked through the Mission on a Saturday night like hundreds of other artists. She was high from all of the adulation she received and I, being a man, was hungry. I had a sweet tooth to be more specific. I wanted a crepe hella bad and I knew just the place.
So we approach a trendy little restaurant on Valencia preparing to eat some of the best blueberry crepes with ice cream that San Francisco has to offer. But as soon as I walk inside the dude behind the counter says they’re closed. I look around and sure enough there didn’t appear to be anyone in the kitchen as if they were about to close but I also saw no less than 8 white people who appeared to be in their 50’s sitting down and enjoying their food.
“Ya’ll closed?” I asked incredulously.
“Closed,” The gentlemen said as he cleaned up.
Of course when we got outside The Poet checked her smart phone and discovered that they were supposed to close at 11:00pm. At the moment it was 10:49. Perhaps sensing the tension heighten or knowing that I was just about ready to slap the hell out of dude and force him to make me a blueberry crepe, The Poet then added, but I don’t want to eat there now because they’ll probably spit in our food.
She had a valid point of course, however, I was still pissed and by this point it wasn’t even about my inability to consume ice cream. I was irritated because I had to think about the fact that if it would have been three well-to-do white folks who showed up at the door instead of a black guy, a black queer poet, and a white female anarchist he probably would have let them eat crepes for an hour. And, ironically enough, I was equally irritated because I will never know whether or not the former statement is true.
For all I know a small place like that could close the kitchen down 30 minutes early, or maybe the cook had some kind of emergency. Also I used to wait tables and I know how annoying it can be when people slip through the door at around closing time. We were never allowed to turn people away like dude did us last night but we definitely wanted to.
As much as Americans speak about racism it’s really rare that we delve into the psychological effects that it has on oppressed people in general and black folk in particular. I was so quick to assume that the guy was being racist (and there is a good chance that this was the case) that I allowed my anger to build before I could follow an effective protocol to get the right answers. Had I just remained calm and asked the right questions I would know for sure why I couldn’t have my crepes, but I didn’t. I stormed out of there with an attitude. He won.
Even though I ended up eating a breathtaking strawberry crepe (I was no longer in the mood for blueberries) in the Sunset District, he won. And even though I’m currently calling that gentleman’s motives into question in this blog entry, last night he won. He didn’t want us there for whatever reason and we all left. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check for long enough to properly challenge that man and so I lost. I hate losing just like I hate racism but I must confess that I hate uncertainty even more so.
Thanks for writing about this. That uncertainty is something else. It’s like we said before, if people can point to the George Zimmermans of the world and say “well, I’m not like *him*,” then they can pretend racism doesn’t exist in other ways. Meanwhile, we have moments like these and we have to wonder…
Yeah it was crazy. I’m so glad that you weren’t there.
ughhh hate those momemts