Can I get an attitude change with that?

31 Jul 2006

It’s a Friday night and I’m meeting a date to go have some good Caribbean food. We’ve heard great things about this restaurant and look forward to checking it out. We get there and start getting comfortable for a cozy dinner. The menu looks great. From king fish, to jerk chicken and some tasty sides of plantain, everything calls out to our taste buds.

Except for the waitress.

I have always tried to make a point of supporting our community Black businesses but I keep getting the sense that my loyalty is too rarely appreciated. Is it that Black businesses take the community’s business for granted? Are we not allowed to demand and expect the same level of service as we get anywhere else?

An even more disturbing question that my date raised after our experience with that waitress is: “Would they treat their White customers like that?” My sincere conclusion, based on my own observations, is that they most often would not. It’s really a subconscious thing.

The saying that “familiarity brings contempt” has everything to do with the bad service we too often get when dealing with our own community businesses.

If a White woman had asked the same question to that waitress about how spicy the jerk chicken was, the waitress would have just assumed that her customer was genuinely inquiring about an unfamiliar dish. Ironically, that same community familiarity which should be an asset for many Black businesses to go the extra mile to better serve their community clientele is the same attribute which works against us.

While discussing my “bad service while Black” experience with a friend of mine who happens to be a waitress, she had an interesting theory about all this. Although Black herself, she acknowledged that she often assumes that Black customers are bad tippers. Therefore, she prefers to offer better service to non-Black customers who will surely give her a good tip if she gives them stellar service. She explains: “One thing about Black customers, you can give them the greatest service but you’ll still get pocket change for tips. So I just don’t bother.”

Bottom line is that all those assumptions and attitudes are born out of self-hate. How can we as a community expect to fight against those external stereotypes and racist attitudes if we insist on perpetuating them ourselves?

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