BACK WHEN I WAS a kid plying the trade of soda jerk, I worked a place that sometimes did and sometimes did not have a bathroom. It depended. It had one if you were a regular customer or just plain neat looking. It did not have one if you looked weired or dirty or acted crazy out of your mind or if, no matter how you were dressed, you were black. No one ever complained.
Those were my orders. With some requests, I would have to check with the boss. I would glance over to him and he would either signify yes or no with his eyes. With black people, I never had to ask. The answer was always no.
I did not like turning away blacks. I was a liberal, sort of, and I believed, at the very least, in equal access to the bathroom, but I was young and I needed the work and so I did what I was told. All the time, I thought the blacks knew I was lying. You could see it on their faces.What I did not know is why they never challenged me.
This comes to mind now because a guy I know recently was turned away from a nightclub because he's black. He's a professional, has a ton of money, membership in a swell tennis club and suits he did not buy off the rack. Still, he was given the bum's rush. Two guys at the door walked him out to the street and told him there was no room inside. Ak ll the time, white people continued to go in.
He waited outside on the sidewalk. He wasn't sure what to do. Black women went into the club with no trouble. White men went into the club and so did white women. It was only black men who were being kept out. There were already too many inside and the management, it was clear, was afraid of titling the racial balance -- going past the point where a club is perceived as integrated (meaning mostly white) to the point where it is considered black. There is a line where that happems -- at least the club owners believed there is, and so, for that matter, does the man who was put out on the street.
So on this night, black men were being turned away. They would come up to the door. be tpld the place is full, and sent on their way. As they came out. The man on the sidewalk made eye contact with them. Once he said, "You, too?" and one of them nodded. The man stayed on the sidewalk unitl a friend came out of the club to fetch him. He went in.
Later, the newspapers wrote about experiences like this. Few of the people who got turned away at the clubs wanted their names in the paper and none of them went directly to city hall and banged their fists on the door in outrage. They preferred to remain anonymous. They were hurt, enraged, made to feel somehow that they had fewer rights than someone else, but they also preferred to keep their names out of it. It is as if there were as great a stimga attached to protesting racial discriminations as to discriminating -- maybe more. Anyway, these people didn't react any different from the blacks I turned away from the candy store bathroom.
You can understand why./ Some people are just plain reluctant to create a scene. They have neither the stomach nor the temperament for it and they expecially don't have it when it comes to a matter as seemingly trivial as admission to a nightclub. It may also be that the concept of tokens -- the business end of the quota -- has become so acceptable that is triggers a little indignation and it also may be that those turned away in some way empathized with the management -- that they, too, feel there is nothing personal meant here, just sound business practice.
You can throw around a lot of theories, even get into questions of self-worth and self-image, all of which are ways of turning the problem back in on the blacks thermselves -- another example of blaming the victim for his poor furtune -- and you can even think that because no one has battered down the door of city hall that no one cares deeply about what has happened. That is not the case at all.
What is the case is simply that blacks are so accustomed to discrimination that they all but expect it, and they are so used to the government doing nothing -- of the people accusing them, instead, of being "super-sensitive" or pushy -- that they keep their mouths, shut, wait for their moment and then, in this case, go into the club. It is as if nothing much has changed since those days when blacks were told by me that there was no bathroom -- told with a voice that lacked conviction. but told anyway. You should not think just because no one complained that all this, a nightclub after all, amounts to nothing.
But it's not nothing. It's something. It's basic and important and if you doubt that you should have seen the face of the man barred at the nightclub door as he was telling me the story. I had seen that look before -- years ago when I told a black that we had no bathroom. A lot as changed since then.
But the look of hurt remains the same.