Recently my daughter and I experienced a situation that really bothered me. We were seated in the bar area of a five star hotel enjoying after dinner drinks when an intoxicated man came over to our table. We were a group of African American women talking and having a good time, minding our business, when he drunkenly stumbled upon us and complimented our appearance. He went on to say that we were all very beautiful and that he “doesn’t see color.” From there, an academic debate began about color and race (a senseless conversation to have with a drunk person). Appearing white, he shared that he was actually Puerto Rican and asserted himself quite aggressively. It later came out that he is a professor at a university and recently got in trouble for making racist remarks to an African American female student. Refusing to assuage his guilt, he began to get out of control, making everyone uncomfortable. When the hotel staff was asked to handle the situation and contact security, they took it lightly. When security did arrive, we were told that they couldn’t do anything about it.
What bothers me is that I truly believe if the roles had been reversed and an African American man was making a room full of white women feel uncomfortable (especially when they were largely patronizing the hotel as a group) not only would security be called in immediately, a S.W.A.T. team would have probably been dispatched and handled the situation in a matter of minutes. What is the possibility of progress in a situation such as this?
We’ve all heard about Rosanne Barr’s racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, former adviser to President Obama, comparing her to an ape. And we applaud Disney and ABC for their swift response in cancelling her show. We are also familiar with the incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia when the police were called on two black men waiting to have a meeting. In response, on May 29, Starbucks closed 8,000 stores to teach racial sensitivity training; a decision that cost them millions of dollars in revenue. But so many are asking: is this enough?
Recently, MSNBC held a town hall called “Everyday Racism in America.” They brought in several experts around the topic of racial profiling, racial sensitivity training and anti-bias training. One of the special guests was Valerie Jarrett. When they asked her how she felt about Rosanne, her response was, “this is a teachable moment.” How more classy could she be? She went on to share that she is surrounded by a village that supports her, but what about the average individual who doesn’t have the same support? They also discussed Lolade Siyonbola, a Black Yale student, who had the cops called on her by a white student because she was asleep in a common area. Yale authorities have yet to come out against this type of treatment towards its students.
When it comes to race relations in America, the statistics are staggering: 45% believe that race relations in the United States is getting worse and 72% believe that racial discrimination remains a major problem in American society. We’ve acknowledged it is a problem. But where do we go from here? What is the possibility of progress and how do we educate people about where stereotypes come from and that racism is built into the fabric of our society? How do we talk about and deal with the daily micro aggressions that people of color and other minorities face on a daily basis? As for me, I still believe we must come back to the foundation of forgiveness, truth and reconciliation. Bishop Desmond Tutu said it best when he said there’s “no future without forgiveness.”