I came up with this title because the experience brought to mind an old classic comedy-drama film “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” of which some of you might be familiar. The movie starred Academy Award and Oscar winning actors Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. In a nutshell the movie was about the controversial subject of interracial marriage and the experience of two families having to work through the acceptance or rejection of their adult childrens' decision to marry.
The possible rejection stemmed from the fact that one family was black, and the other was white. The “happy ending” conclusion of the film centered around the agreement that “love” was the most important factor in a marriage and the offspring of the two families were definitely in "love". So even after many unsettling conversations and interactions occurred, the fact that the two adult children of these families were passionately in love with each other was the compromise that both families eventually chose to support. At least long enough to have a civil dinner together anyway. I’m thinking there should have been a part 2 to this movie. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted to know whether or not they actually got married and if they did, how things actually panned out for them and their families?
Now although my experience had absolutely nothing to do with love and marriage, it did have something to do with the issue of strained and sometime very uncomfortable issues of acceptance in interactions and relationships between white and black Americans. And although this movie was produced way back in 1967, one only need to pick up a current newspaper or check out the daily news on television to know that still today even in 2016, racial tensions and strain continue to be the cause of much unsettling conversations and interactions all across America.
But what does all this have to do with what happened to me a few days ago. Ok, believe me when I tell you I have not lost my train of thought. Let me start by giving you a little background information. My family moved to Texas a little over 14 years ago from Ohio. After a couple of weekends of desperate “new-house” searching we finally settled down in a suburban community that had one of the best rated school districts. This was one of our major concerns at the time. We are a family with 3 children and just like most other parents, we wanted to make sure we raised our children in an environment where they would have the opportunity to get a “good” education. This is how we came to settle in the sprawling suburbs of Katy, Texas.
Ok back to the present. On this particular day I happened to be in what is referred to around these parts as “Old Katy”. I had gone to pick up a lunch delivery at a particular Bar & Grill that for the purposes of this blog post shall remain nameless. It was mid morning and when I drove up to the Bar & Grill I was initially surprised to see that there were so many cars in the parking lot, especially being that it was mid-morning on a weekday. My first thought having never frequented the restaurant before was “Wow, they must have some really good food in here!” I had even concluded before going in that our family would have to have a meal there one day. After finally securing a parking space I got out of the car and headed in to pick up the order. This, dear reader, is when the imaginary film in the surreal “real time” movie starring me began to roll. Lights, camera, action!
As soon as I opened up the door and walked inside of the Bar & Grill it was as if I had walked in on a meeting where everybody had been talking about me and they had to immediately cease their conversations because I had walked into the room. Had I not been picking up someone else’s food, my first instinct would have been to turn around and immediately walk back out the doors I had just entered. Unless you’ve experienced something like this you might not understand how a person can immediately be made to feel unwelcome without one word being uttered. It was the looks, the heads turning, the eyes that darted away when they met mine, the stares and glares I could see in my peripheral vision that seemed to scream to me “What’s she doing in here?” Ok, note to self, breathe.
Hmm...maybe it was the red shirt I was wearing. Perhaps the people had never seen someone in a red t-shirt walk in the restaurant before? I knew that couldn’t be true because the communities school colors just happen to be red and white so at any given time there are plenty of folks walking around in red shirts. Hmm….what was it then? Perhaps it was the red insulated bag I was carrying that I would use to keep the food warm in transit. Maybe this was the oddity that caused me to be the center of attention. Yeah, maybe it was that for sure. Hmmm...I didn't think so. So why is it that I drew so much attention? Could it possibly be because I was the only black person in the restaurant? (Side note, and I wear my hair in an Afro too!). Hmm...
My mind was racing and my anxiety steadily rising as if I was in some kind of fight-or-flight survival scenario. This was crazy and uncomfortable but damn, I had to pick up the food that had been ordered and paid for already. Or did I? I managed to maintain a cool outward appearance that did not in the least match how I was feeling inwardly as I strolled towards the register keeping my focus on the purpose for my visit and not the looks I was receiving as I took each step. When it was my turn at the register I told the waitress the name of the person whose food I was there to pick up. She responded with a lot of “OK honey and sugah’s” almost as if she too had sensed what was going on and how I might be feeling and wanted to do everything in her power to make me feel “real” welcome in spite of it. It was really kinda awkward to say the least.
Unfortunately the food wasn’t ready yet and so I ended up having to sit at the small counter and wait. I sat at the closest stool to the register right next to a man who seemed like he was forcing himself not to look in the slightest direction towards me. Sitting down and feeling very awkward and not happy that the food wasn’t ready yet, I pulled out my cell phone and began checking my emails and social media accounts to give me something to focus on other than the environment and the energy in the room.I was so ready to get out of there but I had to wait an entire 6 painstaking minutes.The longest 6 minutes ever.
I looked up just as one of the male waiters was bagging up the food I was waiting on. Once he got everything in the bag he walked over to me and without one word dropped the bag on the counter in front of me, then turned around and walked off. He didn’t say one word and neither did the overly nice waitress. Wow! This is the moment that I knew for sure that everything that I was feeling was not me being hypersensitive about the racial climate in the restaurant. His actions spoke loud and clear saying to me “Ok your food is ready, take it and move along” and I did just that. I picked it up, put it in my red insulated bag and got the heck up out of there knowing for sure I had no intentions of ever frequenting the place again. Not even to pick up food. I would not be back! Ever!
Reflecting on this experience makes me even more thankful for all those who came before me who endured much worse experiences during the civil rights movement. They purposely and systematically went into places where they were not welcomed, knowing all along that people did not want them to be there. Yet regardless of how they were treated, or rather more accurately stated, mistreated, they remained calm, resolute and focused. It still amazes me just thinking about the sacrifices they made for the cause. All the time the purpose of fighting against racism spurring them on. They carried on being inspired by the belief, faith and hope that what they were doing would one day make things better for those who would come after them. What an awesome sacrifice they made.
I often think about whether or not I could have been so brave and so committed to the cause. Could I have endured being mistreated just for going into a restaurant, sitting down, and requesting to be served knowing that my request would be refused simply because of the color of my skin? Considering how I so easily came to the conclusion that I would never again return to the bar and grill where I had been made to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable, it doesn’t appear that I would have lasted very long. How about you?
Where do you stand in the face of racial tensions and unsettling conversations and interactions between the races? Would you be willing to make a compromise around one thing you might agree about with people who are very different from you and your family. Would you and your family be like the families in the movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Overcoming differences for the sake of the children.
Well...with all that is going on in today in regards to the bubbling pockets of racial unrest popping up all across America, I think we are living in a time when all of us are going to have to honestly answer these questions for ourselves and for our families.What are we going to do about it? Where do we stand and what do we stand for? Of course the reality is that only time will tell. But I hope that the majority of us will have the courage to come together like the families did in the movie. I hope that we will be able to make compromises resulting from realizing that in many instances we are more alike than we are different. At least I hope we can do this long enough to have a civil dinner together (or lunch). Even if lunch just happens to be at the locals’ favorite bar and grill.