Last Saturday I met with a coworker from my corporate days. (I left that environment six years ago). After expressing how wonderful it was to see her again, I fell into my old habit of nagging about the corporate world. I expressed my relief to be in the non-profit arena now and how wrecked our business culture has become. I specifically complained about how being white in America hinders one’s career growth and remembered how few colleagues with different last names and ethnic backgrounds, got undeserved promotions, just so the company can meet its diversity quota to receive federal contracts. Frankly, teaching some higher ups, so they can do their jobs, was quite frustrating back then. I owe so much of my awareness and much of what I know about managing people; from simply being a fly on the wall and learning what NOT to do.
Now, I am more aware. I am glad I was part of the solution for a more “just” society. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have handled my frustrations differently. Fortunately, along the way, I have learned that any system, if forced, may work in the short run, but will create far deeper societal issues that only proper education can fix. That is why, I love teaching, even though my income is a third of what I was making, but I hope that my grandkids, one day, will be able to taste a more balanced world.
Ironically, the day after my friend’s visit, I had a taste of being discriminated against. This note is the story of that incident, and how universe, teaches me things. That Sunday with another friend, we went on a spiritual quest. We drove to Hollywood to visit the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. This is the hotel that M.S. Irani had stayed at in 1956. Unlike the crowd that walked outside on Hollywood Boulevard, the ambience inside the hotel was serene, inspiring, and opulent. I recalled back in 1994, while riding on a jazz club bus tour, we had stopped at this hotel, and I felt the same placid energy.
After walking around this historic building, we decided to have lunch by the pool side and enjoy the already spring-like weather. After half an hour wait, the attendant sat us under the warm sun, which we had requested, as I was wearing a t-shirt and casual pants, and was feeling a little cold. We both were hungry, so we looked at the menu and picked our food while waiting for our table. So, when we sat down, we were ready to order our meals right away. While waiting for our food, two well dressed and good-looking Black men were directed to sit next to us. Our waiter quickly brought them hors d’oeuvre plates and took their order too. Thankfully, our food and our drinks arrived within 15 minutes. This made us both very happy, but quickly realized we did not have any utensils.
So, I called our waiter and asked for utensils. Few minutes later a boss-boy ran over and dropped two wrapped plastic utensils set at our table. The set included a paper napkin, plastic fork, spoon, knife, and a small packet of salt and pepper. We were too hungry to stop him and ask why we did not get the same type of utensils as other guests in the restaurant.
As, I was getting full, I looked around with envy at the fancy silverware and white cloth napkins that sat elegantly on other guests’ laps. I had to remind myself that, in the big scheme of things, using a plastic fork at an expensive restaurant, has no relevance. After all we were there for a spiritual exploration and none of this materialistic and illusionary substances had any intrinsic value. But something had awakened in me, and I could not shush it back to sleep. So, I kept a close eye on our Black neighbors, as I wanted to see their reaction when they get their plastic set. To my surprise, when their food arrived, they got their fancy silverware and fancy white cloth napkins…Without asking?!
The curiosity was eating me alive. Why did we not get the same treatment? Was it our clothes? our age? not speaking English to each other? Why on earth would they not treat us like any other guest? Being naturally curious, and to my friend’s chagrin, I called our waiter over. I looked at him and with a kind voice, I said:
“I am curious, why did we not get the same kind of utensils?”
“Huh?” he responded.
I showed him my plastic fork and said: “why are we eating with these?”.
“Oh, I am sorry, let me get you a set”.
He ran and grabbed us two fancy utensils set and said: “Sorry we ran out of clean silverware”.
Really? Just for us? Because everyone else received them? I kept quiet and felt a miniscule essence of how Black/Brown and other minorities have felt for a very long time in this great nation. Shame more than anger, worked its sneaky way into my heart. I raised my glass to our Black neighbors and gave them a toast.
As some of you know, I am an easy-going gal. I don’t really care about silly non-sense, especially what I eat with, since my favorite utensils are my fingers. (Wrote about it in an earlier note) But this one incident, did not sit well with me. I am not going to pretend that I have never experienced discrimination. I have. But somehow, this time around, I felt the experience to my core. Lesson learned: I will never nag about being marginalized, so another marginalized group, can have a chance. Discrimination based on race, belief, looks, gender, weight, religion, age, sexual orientation, and disabilities will continue, until we wake up to the truth, that we are all one. Our destination is the same, but our paths may differ.
February is the Black history month, in the United States. I salute those who have bought awareness to our shortcomings, and those who keep waking us up from our ignorant ways. we still have so much more to do. As Robert Frost, the famous American poet, whose poem collections has won him four Pulitzer Prizes, writes:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
Yes, indeed, we have miles to go before we can sleep. As always, I am grateful for your time and interest.