“If you’re not white, you’re missing out… I’m not saying white people are better, I’m saying being white is clearly better.”
I am reposting this article in full because I think everyone should read it… all of it [and then check out my rally story after the jump].
Dori Maynard writes:
A few hours before the recent Rally to Restore Sanity, the general manager of a Hampton Inn in Washington, D.C. kicked me out of his hotel, forcing me to stand on the street to wait for my colleague in 39-degree weather.
The incident began when I arrived early for a breakfast meeting with a program officer from one of the major foundations that supports the nonprofit I run. We were in town for the Online News Association’s annual convention and wanted to catch up.
After looking around the lobby, I settled on a seat at a table where I could watch the elevators.
Right in front of me was an older white guy wearing a T-shirt with the word “eracism” emblazoned on the back. Given that the tenor of our national conversation these days has me increasingly fearful about where this country is heading, I was touched to see him making such a strong statement and got up to tell him so.
He was in town for the rally, and we discussed that and the general mood in the nation. When the conversation ran its course, I turned to return to my seat.
That’s when the general manager stopped me and asked if I was a guest at the hotel. I explained I was not but was there for a business meeting with a guest. “Ma’am, you’ll have to leave the hotel,” he said, leading me through the lobby and toward the doors.
I thought he had misunderstood, so I repeated that I was in fact there at the invitation of a hotel guest. “Ma’am, you’ll have to leave the hotel,” he repeated. Slowly, I began to realize that this was no case of “mistaken identity.”
The general manager apparently had deemed me so undesirable that he did not think I was fit to sit in the lobby of his Hampton Inn.
Somewhat disoriented, I managed to have the presence of mind to tell the front desk clerk to call my colleague and let him know that I would be unable to meet him in the lobby as planned because I was being escorted out of the hotel.
The general manager and I watched as she spoke into the phone. Clearly, I was there to meet a paying guest. But the general manager continued to repeat, “Ma’am, you’ll have to leave the hotel.”
People have asked why I did not refuse to leave and then insist that he call the police.
I think that the truth is I was blindsided.
My professional life is all about working with the news media to ensure that all segments of our society are accurately and fairly portrayed. I often speak of the corrosive effects of skewed media images on our public policy and personal lives.
As a person of color in this country, I have many times felt as if I am under greater scrutiny, so I compensate and arm myself as best I can. I consciously try to act in a way that reassures those around me.
Taking a cue from my father, I try to dress as well as possible, almost as if I’m sending up a silent prayer that if I look like this, maybe you won’t treat me like that.
But walking into a hotel lobby a for a business meeting is such a mundane and common occurrence in my life that it never dawned on me to be on guard.
It wasn’t only the manager who blindsided me. Equally shocking was my own reaction.
We have programs that teach people how to talk across difference, including not internalizing another person’s negative reaction. Intellectually, I knew this had nothing to do with me. Yet all I felt was shame.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., was roundly criticized for screaming “you don’t know who you’re messing with,” according to a police report, as the Cambridge cop arrested him in his own home. [I wrote extensively about Gates-gate, starting here.]
I wanted to shout the same thing, not as an arrogant assertion of my authority but as an anguished cry for recognition of our shared humanity.
“You don’t know who I am. I could be your mother, your sister, your cousin or your aunt. I am a fellow human, not something to be discarded on the street.”
I said none of that.
The closest I came was, “Why are you doing this to me? You know I am meeting someone here.” Even I could hear the weakness in my voice, further deepening my sense of humiliation. That was the only time the general manager deviated from his script., saying, “We have to protect our other guests. Ma’am, you’ll have to leave the hotel.”
I made one more lame attempt to assert myself and asked for his name. He thrust his card at me, opened the front door of the hotel and ushered me into the cold. The card identified him as Joseph Galvan, General Manager of Hampton Inn Washington DC Convention Center.
Stunned, I stood shivering on the street wondering what the heck had just happened to me.
People have asked me whether I want Galvan fired. The truth is I don’t want him ever to do this to someone else, particularly someone younger and truly vulnerable. But firing him won’t solve the problem.
As I pointed out after NPR recently fired Juan Williams, just because you shut someone down doesn’t mean you’ve lifted up the issue.
Our Fault Lines framework teaches that it will be very difficult for us to reach common ground until we learn to have the difficult conversations around charged issues. That’s what I would like to see happen this time.
I would like to sit down and have a conversation with the general manager and his colleagues. I want to know what and who he saw when he looked at me in the lobby of his hotel. I want to discuss his underlying assumptions and how he came to them.
After hearing about what had happened to me, my cousin Peter looked up the company on the Internet and learned that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued one of its Indianapolis properties about a month ago. I’d like to talk to company representatives and learn what happened and what they think about both of these incidents. I’d also like to know what the company’s guidelines are for escorting people out of the lobby.
This is what we teach and preach in our media work because we don’t think we have a chance to restore our national sanity if we can’t even determine how to have a civil conversation with each other.
I also attended the rally. I have a couple friends who were nice enough to let me stay in their apartment in Georgetown while they are out of town. It is a very nice building with a lot of upstanding citizens. I guess my friends hadn’t sufficiently alerted the entire condo association that their loud black friend was going to be staying there because I swear, I was getting some of the strangest looks from some of the residents of the building.
I was extremely aware, or at least paranoid, that these people were thinking “What is she doing here?” My friend (whose apartment it is) even joked with me before I got there, “We told the front desk you’d be arriving on Friday. We told them you’re black.” The funny thing is, as he said, “We told them you’re black,” I was saying, “Did you warn them that I’m black?”
Cut to a few days later (after I’d annoyed my friends by locking the keys in the apartment, having to take a cab to my friend’s brother’s house to get the spare key, and etc. (It’s typical me, and because they know me, their reaction to my various shenanigans was more “frustrated parent” than “why are we friends with her again?” Besides, I have the mentality of a 20 year old and a raging case of ADD; it’s not really my fault)), I get a rightfully angry message from my friend that the condo association was unhappy with them because their guest (me) had a “very loud party with 8-10 guests until late.”
Uh. No I didn’t. I had some people over; we were listening to friggin’ Portishead, drinking gin, and talking about sex and politics. I am super loud normally, and when I get drunk, I’m even louder. But 8-10 people? No way.
But guess what? All but one of us was black. I kept trying to rationalize it in my head, while not making lame excuses to my friend, because it certainly wasn’t their fault, and I wasn’t going to play the race card that early.
I was thinking to myself, it’s probably just that the people who lived in the condo weren’t used to any noise at all. Or, maybe we shouldn’t have been drinking and smoking on the balcony. We did get a “Please you keep it down” from a woman upstairs at midnight. At that point there were two of us on the balcony. And we went inside and kept the shit down.
So who knows what went on. I apologized profusely, sent my friends flowers (who doesn’t like flowers?) and wrote a professional sounding letter that they could send to the HOA. Of course I made sure to mention lawyer and law school about fourteen times, and I used as many “smart sounding words” as I could. I mean, it was Halloween weekend, after a huge ass rally, and they had a whole meeting about me! I’m sure they were very concerned.
But really, we weren’t that loud. I can’t help but think, “It’s because they saw a gaggle of Negros1 walking in the building, a little bit drunk after having been out in Georgetown.” Then I think, “No, it’s because I’m a loud drunk asshole.” I don’t know what it was. I keep going back and forth.
My point is this: I always feel like I need to state certain things about myself up front. I’m 36 (I look like I’m 20 and somehow being 36 gives me more gravitas); I’m a lawyer (that always helps); and of course, whomever I am talking to can immediately tell that I’m very well-spoken.
I’ve had a good life. I have a good life. I don’t want for anything. There are people who are so much worse off than I am. I’m not complaining. I can dress well and be extra friendly to disarm people. It’s my cross-eyed bear.
It’d be nice, though, to walk into a room and not immediately start counting brown faces.
It’d be nice to not get furtive glances my way when I’m shopping.
It’d be nice to meet a group of people and not feel like an asshole because I’ve met Mr. So and So or Ms. Whatsherface before, but I don’t remember because it was at some social function where I met tons of people, and the only reason Mr. So and So and Ms. Whatsherface remember who the hell I am is because I was the only black person at that function.
Woe is me.
1 One such Negro is the gentleman who stirred up a metric fuck ton of controversy with this post over at Pajiba, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.
[cross-posted at Balloon Juice. Comment here or there! I will attempt to keep track of both!]