Sir Could You Please Remove Your Hat and Other Racist Sorry Not Sorry Musings
Let me get this out of the way and then I will provide a full explanation for my position.
DO NOT PATRONIZE TOSCANO RISTORANTE, 136 FARNSWORTH AVE, BORDENTOWN, NJ 08505
So, with that being said, I’m really not the type of person to call out specific names or businesses and put them on blast. At least, I think I used to not be that person, but more and more now I’m realizing that the uncomfortable feeling I have when I think about doing this, the uncomfortable feeling I had tonight before writing this, is based deep in my white, privileged upbringing where instances of unfair policy or biased actions were so far and few between that I have a HUGE window of tolerance for them. I guess I used to have a huge window of tolerance.
That window of tolerance is a bad thing. Because frankly, I can’t ever remember a time where I felt like I was being targeted for doing something or not doing something because of the body I exist in. Even as a woman, it’s been a rarity. And I’m very lucky for that. But the window is a bad thing because I’ve seen racism, sexism, homophobia, and an array of other isms play out in situations where my first reaction is to want to give the offender the benefit of the doubt. I want to do this because my lived experience doesn’t point to behaviors being played out based solely on someone’s appearance or identity. But that benefit of the doubt is damaging. Because while it benefits the offender, it places doubt on the person experiencing their prejudice.
I had a conversation with my cousin once who was complaining about his brother who had been pulled over in Texas and treated brashly by the officer. He challenged the officer because he felt like he was being profiled based off the model car he was driving, his ponytail hairstyle, and his proximity to the Mexican border, knowing that he had broken no traffic laws warranting a stop. My cousin couldn’t understand why his brother couldn’t just comply, the officer would find no wrong doing, and then the event would be over. I asked him how many times he’s been pulled over, ever. His answer was three. I then shared with him that in the year and a half that my husband and I had owned our car, he’d been pulled over eight times. I’ll repeat that, EIGHT times. And only once was for a legitimate speeding violation.
I think it wasn’t until my cousin heard this personal account of my husband’s experience that it dawned on him not everyone has the same experience driving, nor the same experience with the police when they’re pulled over. His brother challenging the officer was a way for him to rise up against a system clearly biased towards a particular type of person, even though he wasn’t that type of person. Note my cousin’s first reaction was to give the officer the benefit of the doubt, placing doubt on his own brother’s experience.
Okay, so back to why I don’t want you to patronize TOSCANO RISTORANTE in BORDENTOWN, NJ. Tonight, as I was getting my son ready for bed, I got a call from my husband. He was heated. I was confused because he was supposed to be meeting his best friend for dinner before she moves across the country for a new job. Their reservation was at 7:30 and it was only 8:30. He was clearly in the car and it didn’t make sense that he’d be on his way so early. Then he recounts this story.
They were seated at a table, placed drink and appetizer orders and were talking when one of the managers of the restaurant came over to the table and asked him to remove his hat. She said it was a restaurant policy that hats not be worn at the table. He was happy to oblige the request when he glanced over at another table and saw a white man wearing a very similar baseball hat. At that point, red flags went up for him and the two people he was with. He politely addressed the woman and said he was happy to comply with her request, but wanted to know why he was being asked to take his hat off when there were other diners wearing hats as well. She frowned, told him it was a policy, and then left the table. Again, happy to comply with the request, he did remove his hat, but his friend asked to speak with another manager. This was one of her favorite restaurants that she frequented often and she was dissatisfied with the first woman’s demeanor.
After the manager visited the table the woman came back to explain that the other patron was having dessert and so was on his way out of the restaurant and that’s why she had not also asked him to remove his hat. If he was on dessert, then he had clearly been at the restaurant eating with his hat on for the meal. Who puts their hat on between dinner and dessert?? Still, the woman insisted my husband remove his hat and went back over to the bar area. It was not until a server who knew my husband’s friend well went over and spoke with her, a good ten minutes after the incident, that she finally got up, went over to the other table and asked the other patron to remove his hat.
At this point, you might be thinking it was a mistake, she didn’t see the other patron, this isn’t such a big deal, it’s rude to have a hat on at the table anyway, etc. Those are all possible. But they all give the benefit of the doubt to a woman who singled my husband out in a crowded restaurant and not only asked him to adhere to a policy, but refused to acknowledge the error when pointed out and, for whatever reason, did not immediately ensure that all patrons were abiding by the policy she insisted exists at the restaurant.
My guess is that she’d said it wasn’t her intent. It’s so funny to me how that’s such an acceptable excuse these days for people who say and do things utterly biased and prejudiced. If someone hits a person with their car, obviously its not their intention, but they still feel pretty damn bad about it. Typically, there are profuse apologies and even then there’s often some form of legal action that everyone accepts because, even if you didn’t intend for it to happen, you still definitely hit someone with a car and there are negative outcomes to that. Why is it so damn hard for us to hear that we might be steamrolling people with our prejudice and privilege?
What happened to my husband tonight is implicit bias at its finest. It is the new racism. The racism that exists when we use rules that have nothing to do with race whatsoever to single out people in restaurants, in Starbucks, or in college lounge areas and make them feel like they do not belong. This is unacceptable behavior by a place of business in 2019 and it must be called out. It must be named. They must be named. Otherwise, my husband and his friends leave the restaurant and they get to sweep the whole event under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen until it happens again to the next Black man who dares to wear a hat at the dinner table.
All that being said, if TOSCANO RISTORANTE in BORDENTOWN, NJ decides it wants to do the right thing in this situation here are my suggestions. First, a personal apology to my husband and his friends for disrupting what was supposed to be a great night of celebration. Second, a public apology to acknowledge that what happened was unacceptable and it is not the way you want to run your business in the future. Third, find yourselves an excellent facilitator and bring them in to work with your staff, including owners and managers, around issues of implicit bias. I know several and would be happy to make recommendations. You do all that and I’d be stoked to write another blog post about what an amazing response you had to this very negative publicity.