When I moved to Kansas City in 1980, I came to start law school and to take a job with Freedom, Inc., which at the time described itself as a “black political group”. Freedom, Inc. started in 1963, intended to promote equality and justice in our community.
I encountered bigotry within my first few weeks, and not on the streets of the neighborhood of our office where I worked as the lone white figure. No, the discrimination occurred in a tonier part of town.
A co-worker and I went to a restaurant on the Country Club Plaza for lunch after a networking event. We did not have reservations but told the hostess that we wanted a table for two. We watched as folks who arrived after we did, also without reservations, got tables first. Finally, I approached the hostess and asked how much longer it would be. She said, “You know, you probably wouldn’t like our food.”
My eyebrows drew together. “I beg your pardon,” I replied. She reiterated, “You’re probably the salad type. We have lousy salads here.” She looked me dead in the eye.
I turned to see my friend Joyce shaking her head. Her deep brown eyes darkened. She raised one hand, its brown skin contrasting with my pale Irish complexion as she touched my arm. “Let’s go, Corinne,” she urged me.
I turned back to the hostess. “We’d like a table now, please,” I stated flatly.
The hostess held a pack of menus to her chest and said, “Ma’am, we don’t do salt-and-pepper here.”
I kid you not. Salt-and-pepper, by which I clearly understood that she meant she would not seat us due to the fact that I was “white” and Joyce was “black”.
Outraged, I raised a fuss, then walked out and filed a complaint with the city. We won. We got $1,500.00 each, which we promptly donated to Freedom’s education fund.
This weekend, my sister-in-law told me a disturbing story about students on a Ladue, Missouri school bus taunting their black classmates that they would have to sit in the back of the bus. Their racist comments had been prefaced by chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump”. Seriously? Here? In Missouri? In Ladue, of all places?
If you don’t believe me, click HERE to follow the story.
Incidents like this will become more common under the current national administration unless something happens to clearly signal that America will not tolerate a return to racism and misogyny. We heard it during the campaign. I have no reason to assume that the racist, bigoted supporters of the 2016 presidential victor will feel anything other than empowered when he takes office.
Those of us who believe in equality, justice, and progress must not let this happen. And make no mistake: It can happen here.
Be watchful. Be vigilant. Do not tolerate this conduct. Stand and announce that we will not go backward.
If not you, then who?