It's hard to even express adequately how this feels because the humiliation still burns just as strong as it did when it first happened to me and my family.
We are African American. All together, we are a group of 25 people. On the rare occasion when we get together, it is a very special thing.
We had one of these occasions very recently because my younger cousin is moving away. My family decided to get together recently to celebrate his impending move to Atlanta, and together, we decided on a local joint that does not take reservations but everyone -– all 25 of us –- agreed upon: Wild Wing Cafe in North Charleston.
All of us arrived at the restaurant around 8pm. We are a large group to be sure. We consist of teachers, firefighters, doctoral students, and then there is me, a man who does volunteer work in the community to promote non-violence and who earns my paycheck in the music industry.
As we waited to be seated (we could not make a reservation as the restaurant does not take them), I couldn't help but notice that our group represented almost more people than were in the restaurant at the time. It seemed strange to me that we weren't seated immediately as there was ample space to do so. During this time, there was a white woman who walked past our group, and she stepped on the foot of my sister-in-law. At this point, my sister-in-law said, “Excuse me.” The woman responded: “Get out of my way, bitch.”
We were stung by this, but we weren't going to let it ruin the night. We continued patiently waiting. Big mistake.
After having been in the lobby for so long -– and checking every 30 minutes to see if we were going to be seated –- I realized that we could be put in the very back where there was plenty of seats to accommodate our party. I asked the manager if this would be possible seeing as the time was now approaching 10 p.m., several of my family members had taken babysitters for the night to make our going-away party happen and quite honestly, we were starving.
This is when the manager decided to tell us -– for the very first time -– that one of the customers in the back, who was white and the same person who stepped on my sister-in-law's foot expressed her concern that she felt “threatened” by us and did not want us to sit there.
Threatened? Excuse me? I am a music executive. I work in my spare time to spread awareness of non-violent solutions, and now because I am a black man with 24 members of my family it is making you feel uncomfortable?
No, this is not acceptable. I feel threatened as a black man that this kind of racism is alive and well in America today as 2014 comes creeping around the corner. How is this behavior acceptable?
At what point do we say enough is enough?
I asked the manager if what I heard was correct, and one of the members of my party began to film what was going down as I don't think any of us could believe that we were getting turned away in 2013, Obama in the White House, supposedly post-racial America and all.
That's when this manager told us -– stay with me here –- that we had to leave and said that she had “the right to deny us service.” So I said to her: “You're asking me to leave because we began to record this, after we've waited for two hours, and you've already discriminated against us." The manager answered, "Yes.”
I was stunned. I was angered. I was quite honestly dumb-founded that this was an actual situation that I was experiencing and not some kind of a bad dream.
I refused to accept what was happening without putting up a peaceful fight.
I called the police, and when the police arrived, he too was floored by the level of ignorance occurring at the establishment and, in fact, encouraged us to make our voices known by boycotting the business.
I'm not one to wish harm on anyone or any business. All I wanted was an apology for a truly terrible night and incredibly disheartening discrimination from a restaurant that I loved.
I believe in being an optimist and giving individuals the benefit of the doubt.
So I did not call the media. I did not post anything on Facebook. Instead, I called the restaurant. Three different times.
What did they do? Exactly nothing.
That's when I took it to Facebook last week, and in that time, more than 3,000 shares later, what do you know: I finally heard from the restaurant. They told us they would like to offer us a “free meal.”
But you see, money was never the issue. We can pay for our meals just fine. Equality was.
I have worked hard all my life to get equal treatment and get the same dignity and the same respect as any other man or woman deserves to receive who is a good law-abiding citizen. And yet, this incident is not the first. I have been tailed and mistreated at other establishments, and enough is enough. Let's let this incident be a turning point to say that we will not tolerate any longer being treated as people who can be turned away.
The color of our skin is NOT a threat. Your backward attitudes are.
And if you do treat us this way, we will not patronize your establishment.
We will not give you our money.
We will not give you our respect.
And you can tell us how that feels.