Last week comedian W. Kamau Bell was involved in a much publicized incident in ultra-liberal Berkeley, California, that has many, including him, alleging that he was the victim of racial profiling by a worker at a popular cafe.
I think this is nothing more than seeing something where there is nothing.
According to Bell, who is African-American, the incident happened while he was standing outside the Elmwood Cafe, talking to his wife, who is white, and three of her white friends. He wrote this on his Facebook page:
“One of them asks about the book I am holding. I show her the book. Seconds later there is a loud series of knocks on the window of the Elmwood Cafe. They are coming from inside of the restaurant. I look up and see one of their employees staring daggers at me. The employee then jerks her head to her left aggressively and I see her mouth say something to the effect of SCRAM!”
He goes on to say the same employee told him to leave again, until she noticed the four women, who she clearly did not know were with him, were not being bothered. The waitress, upon being told by Bell’s wife that he was her husband, apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t a race thing. Which Bell and his wife, of course, disagreed with. He wrote:
“Umm...actually a black man being told to leave a restaurant because the restaurant believes that his presence is harassing four white women and their kids, even though there is literally no evidence to support that is TEXT BOOK racism. It was so old school it has a wing in the racism museum, right between the sit-ins at lunch counters and a southern redneck telling a black man on a business trip, ‘You ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?’ My wife told the employee in no uncertain terms that we ABSOLUTELY knew it WAS a race thing, because we live with this sh*t everyday.”
The restaurant issued an apology afterthe incident became public and, according to The San Jose Mercury News, the employee involved was fired.
That is ridiculous. I have yet to hear that she got any real chance to defend herself on this once the racism charge was made so public and by a public figure, which means she really stood no chance at vindication. I don’t know if this waitress was being racist or not, but I do know that W. Kamu Bell is a comedian who makes his living largely based on jokes about race and politics. That does not mean he was not a victim of actual racism but it does mean he is prone to seeing it since his antenna is always up.
While I don’t know for certain, I would bet it is not uncommon for cafes in the Berkeley area, which has a sizable homeless community, to be vigilant to people soliciting or begging outdoor diners. And by no means are most of those solicitors black. So odds are this is not the first person that was told to scram while customers were dining, and I would bet that there were also white people who were told to get on there way.
Is it really racist for the waitress to have assumed Bell did not know the women? I don’t know what Bell was dressed like that day or what the interaction looked like, but to immediately assume the only explanation for her action was that she saw a black man and therefore that was all the information she processed is just too quick of a conclusion to jump to.
It is just a sad place to be when every single incident involving some negative interaction between a white person and a black person is deemed to be racist. Sometimes it is warranted. But sometimes, and I just have a feeling about this one, simple mistakes are blown way out of proportion.
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