Food, Love and Discrimination

Today. Today, I was blown away. As I was driving to Scottsdale to meet some friends for a farewell ladies night out, I imagined the conversations, the laughter and the fun we will have as we say goodbye to a friend moving out of state. Being a food lover, I was also imagining the taste of the food we would eat at Culinary Dropout. It has raves and reviews that make the saliva drip from my lips. As I entered the restaurant, two very nice gentlemen opened the door for me and made their way to the last seats at the bar, where I originally planned to wait for my friends. Thinking I was meeting my friends at 6pm (which it was really 6:30pm, oops), I approached the hostess stand and did my really awkward greeting smile. The one that people usually send back a smile mixed with an, “Is she ok?” expression. But instead, the hostess looked at me, looked away, moved some papers on the stand, and looked away again. I politely said, “Excuse me”, thinking she didn’t realize I wanted to be seated since I  was hanging out solo. She kindly replied, “One minute”. As the door behind me opened a group of people walked up to the hostess stand, I moved over to the side. The hostess greeted them, asked them, “How many?”. They replied, “five”. And were immediately seated.

I stood tall in front of the stand, waited for the hostess to get back, thinking she would seat me next. When she finally came back to the stand, she said, “oh, ya”. I said, “Party of four”, holding up four of my fingers like the dork that I am. She casually, looked across the half empty restaurant and with a snarky replied, “The only place I can seat you is outside.” I asked, “How long will it be until we can be seated inside?” She stated, “At least until 6:45pm.” I looked around the restaurant and saw many opened and scattered tables. I asked, “What about all of those empty tables?” She stuttered back, “W-w-we have a large party coming in.” I got it. I got the message. She did not want me there. She did not like me. I didn’t know why. Maybe because I was outside for 15 minutes before I entered the restaurant and looked flushed. Maybe my hair was frizzy. Maybe she didn’t like my blue shirt or the shape of my eyebrows. I didn’t know. But, it was obvious she believed I didn’t belong there. At this point my anger got the best of me and there was nothing I could but walk away or start swearing at her. So, I chose to walk away. I walked away thinking she did not want me there which meant Culinary Dropout did not want me. She is the first impression a new customer gets. She represents them.

As I walked out that door, I played my actions over in my head. What did I do to offend her? I could not think of anything. Then I remembered telling my niece, “If people are mean or rude to you, you do not need to be mean or rude back. But, you do need to defend yourself. You need to stick up for you because no else will if you don’t.” I thought, what kind of role model would I be to my children or to other women, to this hostess if I let her bully me and do not defend myself. I marched back in that restaurant and asked the same hostess to speak to a manager.

She took her time finding a manager. Came back to the hostess stand, shuffled more papers, embarrassedly looked down and mumbled, “Is there something I can help you with?” I strongly replied, “No, thank you.” She stuttered again, “Actually, I-I-I can sit you down, at that table if you’d like.” I calmly replied, “No thank you. I will wait for your manager.” My plan was to tell the manager what happened but eat elsewhere. Why would I want to eat at a restaurant that does not want me there?. The manager Erin, came up with a smile and a hand shake. She was very friendly, professional and kind. She immediately offered us a table and apologized for the hostess. She stated, “I don’t know why she would say that, maybe she thought we had a reservation or something”. But, I didn’t believe the statement. I believe Erin was trying to smooth things over and trying to get the hostess off the hook. Erin served us a free delicious appetizer tray(my taste buds still work even when I am angry).

Being that I was accidentally early to the restaurant, I had some time on my hands. I wondered, what about me did she not like? I caught a glimpse of my very tan skin and thought, could that be why? Could she really have judged me based on the color of my skin. Up until now, I thought it was something like my clothes, hair, makeup or just my awkward creepy smile.

So, I watched. I watched as her tan co-workers pass by and she ignored them. I watched as her light skinned co-workers walked by and she cracked jokes with them. I watched as brunettes with fair skin walked in and she seated them with a straight face. I watched as she kindly greeted light skinned people and cheerfully seated them. I watched as a dark skinned woman walked in and she ignored her. That particular woman asked a question to that hostess. She replied by shrugging her shoulders, pointing around the restaurant then turning her back to the dark skinned woman. I watched. I watched a young woman working a paid position and yet openly discriminating against paying customers walking in. Discriminating against the people that ensure her job. Discriminating against other human beings. All of a sudden my food wasn’t as delicious. The atmosphere wasn’t as genuine and the free appetizer just didn’t seem like enough. But the friends and conversation for the rest of the night out reminded for as much hate there is in the world, there is much more love.

On the way home, I couldn’t help but think about that sad, angry and ignorant young woman. Growing up as a Catholic Middle Eastern, I have heard a fair share of racism and discrimination in my life. Like the time after 9/11 a drunk man came up to me and some friends at a coffee shop and told us to go back to our country. But, it didn’t bother me much. He was obviously in pain and trying to get let out his hurt. Or the time a cute old lady referenced being Chaldean (Catholic from Iraq) with begging for money. But, it didn’t bother me much. She was old, maybe a little senile and possibly just trying to be funny. Or the multiple times I’ve been ignored while shopping at clothing stores. I’ve always figured, no harm, their loss of commission.  I have never experienced anything even close to the to the significance as tonight for my mere existence to be blatantly disregarded. Throughout all of the experiences I have across living in three different states, I have only minimally encountered discrimination and racism. It was enough to make me aware that racism was there but never enough to make me stop and think about racism and prejudice.  I have never been so openly rejected and non-shalately forsaken from such a well established and well known business as Culinary Dropout.

It is sad to see people hating other people but even more sad when young people hate. It is sad to see the lack of love people have for one another. As if, we are each just an object. As if, we are no different then the floor mat we wiped our feet on upon entering. To think that younger generations are getting more prejudice and more racist truly makes me wonder what kind of life will my kids live. To me, it’s okay if they are discriminated against. It hurts but it will build them into better people. I just hope my children are confident in themselves, content in their lives and educated enough to never be the ones hurting others.

I refuse to accept that Culinary Dropout believes in hate. The manager Erin was kind and the server Jesse was kind, patient while I impatiently waited for my friends and kin to his job. The hostess was just one misguided, ignorant person out of the many people that work there. I keep thinking about how she influences the lives of at least 200 people each day at work. For some of those people, she is silently showing them what little value she believes they have in life. Some of those people might unfortunately believe her. For many other people she comes across, she is showing them how to disrespect other people based on their outside appearance. Unfortunately, some of those people might falsely learn from her mistakes. Although, I accepted and appreciated the managers gestures I just don’t feel like a cheese board is not enough compensation for hatred and discrimination.

Part of me wants her to be fired so she can learn her actions have consequences. It would be nice for a business as influential as Culinary Dropout to set an example in our society. An example of  acceptance and love.

More importantly, all of me wants her to learn that her closed mindedness and ignorance only debilitates her capabilities. It closes her heart, mind and eyes to an array of possibilities in life. She lacks the openness it takes to gain learning, knowledge and experience that one can only get from getting other people. People that may look different, think different and behave different. People that have lived completely different lives that even in our wildest dreams we cannot dream what they have lived. She lacks the openness she needs to be joyful and happy in her own life. Learning from other people different from yourself opens an array of possibilities the mind cannot fathom on its own. It opens up your life.

-Kerry

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