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The writers discussed their stories on The Times’s Facebook page.
Not So Black and White
A barista had just finished preparing an order and then called out “tall, black Marques; tall, black Marques.” Marques, a 6-foot-2 African-American man who works for a demolition company based in Colorado, stood bewildered by what seemed to be a racially charged incident inside a Starbucks.
After realizing the misunderstanding — “tall, black” was referring to the coffee, not the person ordering it — he laughed and defused the situation with a joke: “That’s me, tall black Marques!”
Everyday life brings awkward moments for everyone, but some of our daily stories are infused with added tension, especially if one or more of those involved perceive that race is a determining factor.
We collected three more experiences from colleagues — on the sidewalks of New York, at a restaurant in Kansas City, Mo., and in the business world. Each case carries a different degree of clarity, and what took place can be a matter of perception.
That’s where you come in.
Have you ever been left wondering whether an experience was racism? What is the right way to respond if something like that happens?
Separately, have you ever been in a situation where you worried about being perceived as racist? Share your perspective and stories using this form.
By Greg Howard
In New York, so much of my life consists of walking in and through crowds. I am, I think, a good walker. I don’t dawdle, and even when walking at high speeds, I’m courteous — always willing to sway to one side, change speed in traffic or even take wide berths around large, lost, child-toting or otherwise compromised gaggles of pedestrians.
There are many times in a day when a person is walking toward me and in my path. In these situations, we both generally make minor adjustments upon our approach. Sometimes, and especially with pedestrians who are black, as I am, there’s eye contact or even a nod. Almost always, we shift our bodyweight or otherwise detour to make the pass easier for the other. Walking courteously doesn’t take much, just soupçons of spatial awareness, foresight and empathy. In seven years of living and walking here, I’ve found that most people walk courteously — but that white women, at least when I’m in their path, do not.
Sometimes they’re buried in their phones. Other times, they’re in pairs and groups, and in conversation. But often, they’re looking ahead, through me, if not quite at me. When white women are in my path, they almost always continue straight, forcing me to one side without changing their course. This happens several times a day; and a couple of times a week, white women force me off the sidewalk completely. In these instances, when I’m standing in the street or in the dirt as a white woman strides past, broad-shouldered and blissful, I turn furious.
I turn furious because in these instances I feel small. I always get out of the way, because I was taught at a young age not to bodycheck random people. But I also get out of the way because, as a black man, I’ve learned that bodychecking, bumping or even rubbing against a random white woman can be personally hazardous. So I acknowledge other pedestrians, and reroute. White men and all people of color do the same to me. They offer some form of acknowledgment that we are in each other’s path, that I am there at all.
After these encounters, I’m always left with questions. Why only and specifically white women? Do they refuse to acknowledge me because they’ve been taught that they should fear black men, and that any acknowledgment of black men can invite danger? Do they refuse to acknowledge me because to alter their route would be to show their fear? Do they not see me? Can they not see me?
I wonder, too, why I always get out of the way. Why haven’t I ever just walked headlong into a rude white woman? What lessons tug at me, force me off the sidewalk, tell me that my personal space is not necessarily mine? Because explicit in every white woman’s decision not to get out of my way is the expectation that I’ll get out of theirs.
There have always been white women in my life, and I’ve counted them as friends and sisters, mothers and lovers. Whenever I ask white women I know why they don’t reroute for black men, they invariably express ignorance. Whenever that happens, another question always arises: Wait, am I crazy? But then I ask black men. Invariably, they know what I’m talking about.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked an Asian friend if he had the same experience of white women not getting out of his way. He said no. For whatever reason, white women see him just fine. The people who don’t, he said, are white men.
The writer is a reporter for the Sunday Metropolitan section.
By Lisa Godwin
I was eager to share the journey of my career with the world, via Jopwell, a diversity hiring start-up. As a woman of color holding various leadership roles in technology, this is something I take great pride in. I am often contacted by recruiters and asked to share my network of colleagues as an aid in placing people in tech roles, and have at times been pitched for jobs because my resume and experience are aligned with the position they are trying to fill — at least that’s what I thought.
The day my Jopwell article was released, I was approached with many positive comments and remarks, especially from recruiting agencies I have not met stating, “Nice to finally meet you,” or “Congrats on all your success.” But amid all my joyous remarks and comments, one email from Hire Talent reversed the entire day. The email was addressed as “Hello Black” and proceeded to pitch a job to me for employment. I was immediately bewildered. I just sat and glanced at the computer for a few minutes in complete disbelief that this was happening to me, as I have never been confronted with racism directly. Once I gathered my thoughts, I replied to the email asking, “Is this how you address potential employees for your clients? By race?” Their instantaneous reply stated that this was a technical error and offered many apologies and various phone calls.
Well, one thing you cannot do to a person with my extensive tech background is blame a technical error and expect me not to investigate. Of course, this led me to do some digging into their creation of their email templates and how they import, sort and organize the data, and my findings brought a bigger issue to light. There did, in fact, happen to be a technical error in how the template had generated the email that was sent to me — but what was not an error was that each candidate in their database is categorized by race.
What seems to have taken place is that they saw the article and filled in my race (or what they think I identify as) into their spreadsheet, and instead of my “NAME” being populated into the email, the “RACE” category did. This experience has made me wonder if all candidates seeking employment have the same fair opportunity at getting hired if agencies are categorizing and profiling as such, or am I being contacted only to fill company diversity quotas and not because of my history of accomplishments? I am left puzzled yet inspired.
The writer is a creative technologist at The Times.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
By John Eligon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — This might seem like just a story about tortilla chips, but I assure you it’s much deeper than that. It is — I think — a lesson on racial and cultural alliances.
As a black man, I usually feel a deep kinship with other racial minorities, even those who are not black.
Sure, there are deep-rooted tensions between black folks and Latinos, and black people and Asians. But I have always felt that our shared struggles in a white-dominated society trumped our differences.
But a recent trip to my favorite no-frills Latin American restaurant here has me rethinking this.
It’s a place where the chicken tacos are chargrilled to perfection and almost everyone speaks Spanish. My black wife and I are usually the only diners there who are not of Hispanic descent. Nonetheless, I’ve always felt like we belonged — I even got one of their punch cards that rewards five visits with a free meal.
After we ordered our tacos recently, the waitress, unsolicited, told us that they were out of chips and that she therefore could not give us any as they usually do.
Yet a short time later, a Latino couple was seated, and their waitress brought them chips. Same thing with another group after that.
“Hmm,” my wife said, “seems like they fried some more chips.”
So as we were our eating tacos, I asked our waitress if they had chips now. They don’t, she told me, but right at that moment a waitress walked out from kitchen carrying chips for another table. Our waitress’s eyes went wide. She asked her co-worker something about chips in Spanish. (We don’t speak Spanish.)
The second waitress responded in Spanish, and the only thing I caught was “un poquito.” Yet our waitress turned back to us and repeated that they were all out of chips.
We were now officially baffled, and the staff seemed to be getting nervous. A manager kept coming by our table to check on us, and giving a pained expression at the same time. Our waitress offered us churros. We declined, but she came back offering a different dessert, and we took it.
As we were preparing to leave, another party of Latinos showed up, and their waitress brought them — you guessed it — chips.
Now, the manager standing behind the counter appeared super anxious. He offered me a beer. I declined. He insisted. But I declined again.
We honestly didn’t want chips that bad. But what was going on? They offered us free dessert, free beer, but they drew the line at the (cheapest option) chips? That made little sense to me.
Had I miscalculated my status at this restaurant and my bond with the fellow racial minorities who ran it? The best theory that we could come up with was that they were running out of chips and wanted to save them for the Latino customers. Being black, we were left out.
I went back to the restaurant a few days later and posed that theory to the manager who was there that night, Alex Hernandez.
“Oh no, no. No. No. No,” Mr. Hernandez said when I asked if our race had anything to do with our not receiving chips. “That’s, like, discrimination.”
What happened then?
When we arrived, Mr. Hernandez said, the restaurant was out of chips. By the time our food had come out, they had fried more chips. But because we were already eating our tacos, they did not bring us any chips, he said.
But what about when I asked the waitress for chips?
Mr. Hernandez said that he didn’t know why she did not bring us chips, and that if he had known that we wanted them, he would have brought them to us. At the same time, however, he said that he had offered me the beer because he felt bad that it had taken a long time for our food to come out (it was a really busy night) and because we did not get chips. But if he did not know that we wanted chips, why did he feel bad about that?
Mr. Hernandez did not really have an answer, other than to reiterate that he felt bad for us and that if we would have asked him for chips, he would have brought them. He apologized profusely.
The tacos and pupusas I ate satisfied me just fine. I would like to believe that this was nothing more than a misunderstanding, just a case of poor service.
Yet I can’t help but wonder now, in the larger universe of racial alliances, how do our teams actually line up?
The writer is a national correspondent covering race.