Thursday, July 24, 2008

Black In America - Manners Matter

CNN's Black in America series is running this week. One topic they've covered is profiling. It's happened to both of us. It is painful, insulting, embarrassing and cruel. It can make you so angry that you just want to lash out - and this can be ugly. We'd like to share a couple of our own personal incidents and how we handled them.


I was shopping at one of my favorite stores for a client several years ago. The security people were practically on top of me. I got very angry and loud. A black security guard came over to me and said, “You’re right, they were following you, but this is not the way to react.”

While there is good reason to be angry, it doesn’t help to cause a scene, especially when you haven’t done anything. Take a deep breath, ask to see a manager, take names and numbers.

Last February a woman moved her purse after checking on it numerous times, there was no way I could’ve taken it. When she finally moved the purse, I went over to her and acknowledged her action. I was calm; I spoke in a hushed tone and politely asked her not to judge all us by the worst of us. (By this time she had rolled her Burberry coat in a ball and stuffed it in a small tote, so I guess she thought I wanted the coat too).

Situations like these call for poise, manners and confidence - everything they apparently don't have.


I had dinner with friends last night in an Upper East Side restaurant. Our table wasn't ready so we found some seats at the bar. To my right there was a young, white woman. Her bag was hanging on the chair. As I was getting situated, she looked at me and then reached into her bag as if she were looking for something. Her hand came up empty. I turned my chair toward my friends, when I swung my chair around to go to our table, her bag was on the other side of the chair.

I had to have a quick little conversation with myself. Would she have done that if I were white? Maybe, but why hadn't she put her bag in a more secure place before I sat down? I wasn't the first customer of the evening and it was clear that she'd been there awhile. That's what racism does - it makes you weigh the situation, when you're black. It can't be coincidence that for all the times I've sat next to a white woman she just happened to move her bag closer or to the other side of her. One woman was kind enough to look at me and say, "Let me give you some space." I'm small, her Chanel purse is small - what space was she talking about?

Sometimes I have been tempted to say, "Would you like me to take that for you?" Instead, I opt to say nothing. I just hope that one day she'll have the pleasure of meeting Yvette.

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