Black Comedian And TV Host Experiences Racial Profiling At Restaurant While Talking To White Wife
We talk about racial profiling all the time but this has to be one of the most upsetting accounts we’ve heard in awhile. It caught our attention because the comedian it happened to tweeted and blogged about it:
We’re going to try to condense it because it’s pretty long, but his account has some important details so we’ll try to keep as much intact as possible.
Here goes… via W. Kamau Bell’s blog:
Dear Elmwood Cafe
2900 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705
It was my birthday. My wife, Melissa, wanted to take me out for a birthday breakfast after we had dropped our three and a half year old daughter, Sami, at school down the street. Melissa picked the Elmwood Cafe…
So yes, we had breakfast there. But I know you don’t remember that, Elmwood Cafe. I know you don’t remember that because later that same day my wife went back to eat lunch with some new friends of hers. (I told you that she loves you. TWICE IN ONE DAY!) . Our daughter, Juno, is now 13 weeks old. My wife’s new friends are all moms with new babies…
While she was eating with her new friends, I was down the street at Espresso Roma Cafe working on my Macbook Air… When I was done working I walked back down College Avenue to rejoin her and meet her new friends. I was just carrying my laptop with no bag because I knew I wouldn’t be out for long. On my way back I stopped at Mrs. Dalloway’s, the bookstore, and I bought a children’s book about the Lovings, the couple who went to the Supreme Court and successfully argued for the striking down of laws that banned interracial marriage in 17 states. This is relevant to me because I’m black and my wife is white. That part I know that you know. Because of the series of events that followed me buying this book. They are as follows:
1. After buying the book and deciding not to get a bag for the book, I walk to the Elmwood Cafe.
2. I see my wife and her new mom friends all happily chatting and holding their babies while sitting at an outside table. It struck me how well my wife fit in with these new friends. (And not just because they were all white… although I think that may have made a difference to you.)
3. I walk over to them. My wife introduces me to them.
4. One of them asks about the book I am holding.
5. I show her the book.
6. Seconds later there is a loud series of knocks on the window of the Elmwood Cafe. They are coming from the inside of the restaurant.
7. I look up and see one of your employees staring daggers at me.
8. The employee then jerks her head to her left aggressively and I see her mouth say something to the effect of…
Seriously. That is what happened. OK. Maybe it wasn’t exactly, “SCRAM!” Maybe it was, “GIT!” Or maybe it was, “GO!” Whatever it was, it was certainly directed at me. And it was certainly the kind of direction you should only give to a dog… a dog that you, yourself, own.
Or maybe you could yell that at a dog that you don’t own, but a dog that you are afraid is going to attack a group of moms and their babies.
What do you think you would’ve done if it had happened to you?
Here’s how W. Kamau and his wife reacted:
I was stunned. Caught totally flatfooted. My wife saw the look on my face. Later she told me that what I heard was in fact the second round of knocks on the window. My wife apparently thought it was a person who recognized me from my work who was excited to see me. (Look, Elmwood Cafe, I know you don’t know who I am but it does actually happen sometimes that people who know my work are excited to see me.) But when my wife saw the hurt expression on my face, she knew it wasn’t a fan. It was… something really sh**ty happening to her husband at her (soon to be formerly) favorite breakfast spot.
I told her (which meant I had to awkwardly tell these other women I just met) what just happened. I wanted to run away. I was actually strangely embarrassed, as if I had done something wrong. (Through my reading I have learned that’s one way oppression also works, from the inside.) I felt numb, like I was going to pass out. And then an employee — maybe the same one — walked out of the cafe to once again deliver the “Get out of here!” message. I guess since I was still standing there you figured that I hadn’t heard it the first time. But then your employee hesitated and looked around. And I guess she realized that no one at the table was bothered by my presence. We were in fact only bothered by her presence. We were bothered by the fact that we we currently standing in Berkeley, California, a city so allegedly liberal that even the most progress-y progressives make fun of it, and yet thanks to you, it is where I as a black man was being told to “GIT!” like it was 1963, Selma, Alabama, and I was crashing a meeting of The New Moms of the Confederacy. In that moment, your employee delivered the line that has become an instant classic in our family:
“Oh, we thought you were selling something.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean? You thought I was selling something so you thought you’d tell me to “GIT!” without first walking outside to find what was going on? And is “selling something” enough for you to bark at me through a plate glass window? And is the equivalent of “Oops!” enough to get you off the hook? The answer to the last two questions is, “No.”
At this point Melissa couldn’t take it anymore.
Melissa: “He is my husband.”
Your employee: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “This is my wife. That is my daughter. I just ate here earlier today.”
Your employee, not even looking at me: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “I bet you are.”
Quickly Melissa gathered herself and our daughter and we left. Much sooner than we would have wanted to in a perfect world… or even in just . Melissa talked to your employee. Melissa explained that although we had eaten there twice that day and even though she loved the Elmwood Cafe that we would not be back after the racism that we had just experienced.
That’s when your employee told my wife, “I don’t think it was a race thing.”
See and we were trying to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt too, but W.Kamau, being observant had noticed a white man ACTUALLY panhandling outside the restaurant earlier:
Ummm… 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 is 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 your employee in no uncertain terms that we ABSOLUTELY knew it WAS a race thing, because we live with this isht everyday. Full disclosure, I heard about this exchange after it happened when we were headed home. While my wife was talking to your employee, I was cooing at my daughter in the car, for two reasons. 1) I love my daughter’s fat cheeks and big hazel eyes. And 2) I knew if I stood over my wife with my 6’4”, 250lb frame that it could very easily be spun that I was standing over your employee, and maybe that I was trying to intimidate her, or even worse that I was getting aggressive. I didn’t want to end up a hashtag. Again, we live with this shit everyday.
And look I understand that on College Avenue in “Berserkeley” that you might get some characters coming through your establishment that you might not want to serve. And it is your right to refuse service. For example, when we had breakfast that morning, there was a white guy with dreadlocks sitting directly across from your doorway spare change-ing everyone who went into and out of your restaurant. And I could understand if a business thought he was bothering people and if that business had asked him to leave. But he was there the entire time we had breakfast, at least an hour, and I didn’t see anyone tell him to, “SCRAM!” But when I stood amicably talking to my wife for a few minutes, it was a different story.
I think me and that white guy were both even wearing hoodies, so it can’t be how I was dressed. Plus mine was a super cool Oaklandish one. I guess in his hoodie he had a more Zukerberg type of feeling…
W. Kamau Bell (And Dr. Melissa Hudson Bell, Ph.D… She co-wrote and cosigns this.)
UPDATE: My wife & I just talked to Michael Pearce, the owner of Elmwood Cafe & we’ve decided to have a public conversation about this. Details soon.
Me & my wife are not calling for anyone to be fired, not asking for a boycott. We are going to have a public conversation. #SoYouCanComeToo