Rachel del Valle | What’s the age again?
Duly Noted | Racial discrimination in the 21st century is easier to find than you’d think
March 19, 2013, 1:01 am·
Rachel del Valle
Over spring break, a couple friends and I piled into a ’96 Honda Accord and headed for New Orleans. The drive from Philadelphia is about 18 hours, so we took a break on the second day, spending the night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. After settling in at the Comfort Suites, we made our way to a local dive bar, which felt like an oversized Applebee’s.
Posted at the front of the restaurant was a sign that read “Proper Dress Required — the following are not permitted: Men’s Tank Top Type Shirts, Badly Torn Jeans, Excessively Baggy Pants or Shorts, Long Chains, Sunglasses at Night.” Below was a disclaimer that said the management reserved the right to refuse service to anyone improperly dressed.
At first, I laughed. I took a picture with my phone and thought it was funny. I’d add it to the Facebook album. Look at how charming and overly dignified the South is. But later, when we were sitting at our table and I looked at the image again, it hit me. I glanced around and realized how homogenous the crowd was compared to the glimpses of Alabama we’d seen earlier in the day. We got up and left.
A friend of mine from high school who goes to Columbia came to stay with me this weekend. She told me about her night this past week when she and a bunch of girls went to a bar on the Lower West Side of Manhattan and experienced a similar thing. She’s black, and the group she was out with was mostly black.
They ducked into the bar for a quick drink, and as they were standing outside waiting for my friend to get her check, the bouncer told them they shouldn’t go back in. He explained that the management didn’t like groups of black people — they were loud. “I’m Puerto Rican and my wife is black — I’m not racist,” he said, distancing himself from the policy.
The cover story of this month’s Philadelphia Magazine is called “Being White in Philly.” After reading that piece, which purports to be a manifesto of “what’s not being said,” I felt a little sick. In theory, it’s fine. Unnecessarily polarizing, but acceptable, I guess. But in execution, it’s all wrong.
The basic thesis ties poverty and crime to race, taking a narrow view on a big issue. It’s this kind of thinking, this uncontested belief in a racial “underclass” — which is an actual term that the piece uses — that prevents change. Minorities aren’t disproportionately on the low-income end of society because of any inherent differences in race. The implication that communities need to be gentrified in order to be corrected is troublesome.
From Tuscaloosa to New York City to Philadelphia, racism is still very much a thing.
It’s likely that growing up in New Jersey, one of the most diverse states in the country, gave me a skewed view of things. My town, grade school and high school are all pretty reflective of the state’s range of communities. So every once in a while, it’s a bit jarring to pause and realize that I’m living in 2013, in the United States, with a biracial president — and there’s still a current of latent prejudice everywhere. I’d say it’s a generational thing, but I know that there are plenty of people my age who see things differently than I do.
Diversity of opinion is an important part of any society. I realize that people come from different backgrounds and sometimes it’s hard to grasp how that has shaped your view of the world.
But there’s a difference between honesty and ignorance. I can’t help but hope that we live in a progressive society. If that’s true, then establishments shouldn’t be allowed to bar customers on the basis of race some 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Being oversensitive isn’t great, but neither is callousness. If someone makes a comment that feels wrong, that’s probably because it is.
Trust your instinct — say something. Vestiges of discrimination left unchecked are in some ways more insidious than overt statements — they add up.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.