Earlier tonight my boyfriend took me to a high end restaurant for a surprise dinner (Yay me!). We had an awesome time as we always have at that restaurant and I was finally feeling relaxed after a stressful week.
As we stood outside of the restaurant waiting for the valet to return the car, I leaned on him while wearing my black dress from work and heels and he wore a pair of jeans and a pink checked shirt (don’t worry, there’s a point to the detailed wardrobe descriptions).
After less than a minute, the male half of a couple (let’s call him “Mr. Cardholder”) who exited the restaurant immediately after we did approached my boyfriend with his valet card and raised his hand with said card to my boyfriend who gave him a LOOK, which caused Mr. Cardholder to mumble “Oh, you’re not the valet”, shuffle around a bit and walk away with his companion.
In case you haven’t seen my profile photo, I’m black. My boyfriend is black. Mr. Cardholder was white and Barbadian just like me.
I stood there numb. That’s the best way to describe it. I was actually unable to speak for a few moments. Running through my mind was, “Did that shit just happen?” By then the valet, who wore head to toe black just like the other restaurant staff had parked our car and was heading toward us with the keys. I started ranting on the way to the car. Mr. Cardholder was nowhere in sight.
I could try to rationalise what happened by saying that maybe Mr. Cardholder wasn’t looking where he was going and innocently made an error. Hmmm, nah. He just assumed that the man I was leaning on, who was dressed nothing like the valet employees, was to bring his car around. Really???
I experience all kinds of negative emotions when I see racist actions and their effects in news stories from countries like the United States where Jim Crow laws were only repealed just over fifty years ago and where names like Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and Eric Garner are fresh in our minds. I, along with millions of others around the world freely cussed Trump a few weeks ago for saying that he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides” following the protests in Charlottesville. I know that while we haven’t had to deal with those issues in Barbados we have miles to go when it comes to our race relations, particularly between black and white. I’ve written on this blog about it, I’ve spoken about it with friends, both black and white.
But tonight I was shaken. I was pissed. I don’t think for one minute that we would have been approached had we not been black. Since when does the valet dress differently from his colleagues and have a woman attached to him? Since when do valet couples exist? In the seconds he took to walk toward us with his card in hand could he not have been smart enough to realise that we were paying diners just like him? Of course not.
His dumb-ass assumption exposed his privilege, his belief, whether situated in the back or front of his mind, that certain skin colours do certain jobs, period. The worst parts of this experience? The fact that it happened. The fact that there are many other Mr. Cardholders in Barbados who will never acknowledge that such a seemingly innocuous action means as much as verbalising your dislike of black people because of the colour of their skin.