Colonial Fool Part I: Are You Being Served?
So, I just have to be cranky for a minute. This morning when I went into ‘Sweet Inspiration’ cafe in the Castro for a nice cup of tea before meeting with friends for brunch, I experienced something that is unique for black men who frequently have to navigate white worlds. The gentleman before me was greeted by the counter person with the words, “how can I help you sir?” to which the patron replied with his order. This customer probably looked to be a fairly typical Castro-ian (35, white, male, decent income…judging by his backpack, etc.) he was wearing tennis shoes and a t-shirt. When it came my turn for service, I was greeted with “Hey, man…” As far as I know, I look fairly typical if even a bit affluent as Californians go (shorts…it’s 70 degrees, sunglasses, casual linen shirt) but I do have dreadlocks and brown skin and these I believe are the exclusive reason for not being greeted without any kind of deference of respect. I was greeted according to my race and not to my status as paying customer.
Why am I cranky? Because this happens to me every day, everywhere I go…except for black establishments, where I am always greeted as “sir.” I feel a right to be cranky about this because, for many years, I was in the service industry. I learned early on, that if I didn’t greet a customer as “sir” or “ma’am”, it would surely show in my tip. I am greeted this way by both young and old, male and female. The only consistent thing among these service professionals is that they are all white. Now, this isn’t everyone. I think there are some people who have gained a little bit of a clue and realized that by greeting me as “man” or “bro” or “dude” or “blood”, they are not showing me any kind of solidarity. Instead, they are only showing me the fact that they are aware of my skin color and the history in this country that surrounds my skin color…oh, and their deep rooted fear of being in relationship with me.
I suppose I could be happy to be greeted at all. My parents have shared stories of traveling to the South in the 1950’s and not being served at all. I have also experienced the “we’re just not going to serve you until you leave” thing in more than one state north of the Mason Dixon. But somehow I thought we had passed a law against that…
So with this brief blog entry, I will begin a series of pieces all about deconstructing American colonialism. For me, colonial rule is alive and well. Not only in white people trying too hard, but in where faith sits in our culture and how it divides us racially and culturally and economically. Colonialism is also alive in how we continue to purpose women toward sex and procreation. Colonialism guides us in how we see masculine and feminine and it continues to create systems of “us and them” that began with the decimation of the native peoples of this land. On top of it all, I own part of this way of being; I am at times responsible for perpetuating the legacy of colonialism as any “Taylor the Latte Boy” who calls me “man” or a black woman “sister” or greets Latinos with ‘hola’, etc. As far as I can tell, more than any other ill in American culture, it is the continued perpetuation of colonial values, ethical priorities, relationships, social definitions and a host of other cultural perversions that stands in the way of our living into the most important value that is espoused by both lofty world thinkers and children everywhere: to be loved.
Therefore, dear ‘Sweet Inspiration’ Barista, cute though you may be, you have a lot to learn. For although I do identify as a man, I am not your “man” and you can’t relate to me better by assuming a linguistic posture that you think might be “familiar.”
You can call me “sir,” thank you very much.
Kristin Chenoweth singing “Taylor the Latte Boy”