Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Blaming the Victim

It all began with my incredulous response to a bunch of tweets. The former Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted that she had been turned away from dining at the Perimeter Mall location of The Capital Grille (TCG) because she was wearing leggings. I was putting my Kid to bed after our return from her Spring Break, so I saw the Mayor's tweet a few hours after it had been initially posted. As I scrolled through the responses, I noted that several were in defense of the restaurant until I got to one dissenter who noted that TCG isn't really "fine dining" in the way that most non-suburbanites would describe. To which, I posted this tweet calling the incident weird.

Later in the middle of the night, jolted awake by a seven-year old elbow, I went to the bathroom where I did a little more scrolling and then fired off this quick 10-point rant to the Busy Black Woman Facebook page of the reasons why this incident struck me as absurd. Then I got sleepy and went back to bed. The next morning after proofreading and a few quick edits, I got ready for the rest of my day. And I guess in what must have been a mistake in the Facebook algorithm, my little rant generated quite a bit of traffic.

Now, because I don't know any of the people who commented, I will issue this disclaimer that I respect their right to have opinions, even if I think most of them are wrong. And that needs to be said at the outset since most were premised on the following erroneous assumptions:

  1. That I said this incident was about race. I never said that.
  2. The fact that I never addressed race isn't unusual, but the fact that people made that leap is interesting.
  3. The fact that other people called it out as a racial incident isn't surprising.
  4. I agree that race is a factor.
  5. Race can be a factor and that doesn't make this incident *just* about race.

Even when we don't mention how an incident has racial overtones, the mere implication touches a nerve. One of the first negative comments I read (yes, I have trolls now!) sarcastically suggested that I go cry wolf somewhere else other than on my own Busy Black Woman page...

First off, whet?! Second, you don't know me like that homie. Third, why so triggered that someone else saw what I saw and commented that other non-Black patrons had posted pictures of themselves dressed casually in leggings, clearly happy and pleased that they had just eaten at TCG in celebration of whatever or whomever? (Imagine that--I liked a comment that supported my point!) Fourth, did you seriously expect that I would push back against the emerging narrative that there might have been an element of racial shenanigans at play? The nerve!

The nerve of those several white commenters who shared anecdotes on Twitter of how they had not been turned away from TCG, in spite of their "violations" of the dress code. I noted that these stories were shared based on visits to other TCG locations, because it is a chain restaurant. A fancy high end chain, with a dress code that is selectively enforced, depending on who might be manning the host desk that day. But we'll come back to that detail a little later. What I would like to emphasize again for all of the knee-jerkers in my comments is that at NO POINT did I state nor in the three tweets she posted about incident did the former Mayor of Atlanta blame racism as the reason why she was not seated. 

That is the conclusion y'all made. You saw some commentary written by someone calling herself a Busy Black Woman and made all kinds of assumptions about Democrats and Black racism against white people, neither of which has anything to do with dress codes and whether leggings are pants. No one directly involved has officially commented since Friday. However, since that is the hill upon which some folks are determined to die, perhaps you should reflect on why you immediately assumed race was at issue. Because for people who trip over themselves to deny the existence of racism, it seems rather odd that you would see some evidence of that which you claim does not exist. 

Don't hurt yourself trying to untangle that. 

For the commenters that questioned whether the host/hostess recognized the former Mayor, I am willing to concede that is a valid point. Notwithstanding the fact that I would recognize her even though I don't live in Atlanta (because she is my Soror and a rather prominent one, so there's that), I thought it was a given that a high profile elected official from the neighboring jurisdiction would be easy to spot. My bad for presuming that the former Mayor of Atlanta, who got a LOT of national attention during her four years in office, would still be recognized in public. I made that assumption in good faith seeing as how I live in a city full of Very Important Politicians, and not even the most unassuming former ones can escape being recognized by somebody. 

Therefore, allow me to address the "rules are rules" crowd, who fervently claim that the former Mayor of Atlanta was rightfully held to the same standards as everybody else, to which I call BULLSHIT. Exceptions to the rules are made all of the time, especially when it is believed that a certain person or group of people should be exempted. For example, while I was in Delaware last week, I went to purchase coffee and was asked if I was a teacher, public safety officer, medical professional, or a veteran to which I replied that I was none of the above. The cashier explained that if I did so identify, I would have been offered a 10% discount on my purchase. In that case, the rules (the posted price) would not have applied. Yes, I know that offering someone a discount on a cup of coffee isn't the same as allowing someone to enter a fine dining establishment at the mall, and I might be compelled to agree. 

Except when some of you rules are rules sticklers are the same folks protesting mask mandates. Because if it is a policy that is applicable to everyone, why is that is more problematic than a policy that is only enforceable against certain people? Surely, you see the irony, but if not, allow me to explain.

Dress codes are problematic precisely because they are subjectively enforced. While a policy of exclusion can specify what kinds clothing are considered objectionable, there typically are no clear standards that can be universally applied. One manager's interpretation of athletic attire might exclude NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in a golf shirt and khakis while another manager would escort him to the best table in the house. Does the prohibition against tank tops mean that a woman dressed in this outfit from Banana Republic would be deemed unacceptable?

Would HRH Prince Charles be turned away if he showed up wearing a bowler hat? As Bottoms rightfully asked, how were her leggings more inappropriate than the other patron who was seated after she was turned away? We don't have pictures to make the comparison, but I'm pretty sure that the former Mayor, mother of four, was most likely dressed in tasteful athleisure on Good Friday at the Perimeter Mall.

But rules are rules, even if they are applied in an arbitrary manner.

So let's return to the classification of the restaurant because someone asked if I was comparing TCG to Red Lobster, and well yeah, I did. Because they are both chain restaurants. And guess what I found out: TCG is operated by Darden Restaurants, the same company that founded and used to operate Red Lobster (but not since 2014). Apparently, I wasn't that far off.

Now for the sake of argument, I will concede that TCG is a whole lot nicer than Red Lobster. I've eaten there a few times, and each time I must have been "dressed" appropriately. I don't recall ever witnessing anyone being turned away, not when I ate at the Manhattan location in the heart of touristy NYC after we had seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Nor when I ate at the downtown DC location one hot August summer evening during Restaurant Week. And not even that time I had a casual lunch with a friend at the Chevy Chase location after I had just been shopping. I didn't even know that TCG had a dress code. 

Perhaps this is my liberal East Coast elitism showing, but any restaurant that sells gift cards and offers insider loyalty points hardly qualifies as fine dining. At best, TCG is where you take your family to eat after Junior's high school graduation or when your quirky Aunt Margaret stops by unannounced for a visit. Since I don't live in the suburbs, I don't frequent restaurants that are located in mall parking lots unless they have drive-thru windows. Therefore, I must side with Mayor Bottoms in her questioning of a policy that makes more practical sense in a downtown business district than it does for a location with curbside pickup parking. 

Furthermore, I stand by my statement that some of you have Stockholm syndrome if you are defending the dress code policy at what is essentially Longhorn Steakhouse without a kid's menu. The difference is that TCG intentionally overprices its menu and is situated in affluent neighborhoods to dissuade certain kinds of people from patronizing it. The dress code functions as an added layer of protection against those undesirables. Ask yourself who is more likely to be subjected to it: the argumentative people who stumbled onto my page to denounce me as racist or the Pick-Mees who tweeted back screenshots of the TCG dress code policy to the Mayor as justification for the way she was treated? It is for US--the same people who are always targeted by redlining, economic under-investment, over-policing, voter suppression, and other forms of discrimination. And some were too eager to chastise Bottoms with the quickness, as if more than a few of them had encountered the same snooty manager who had assured them that the policy was intended for the comfort of all guests and to better deliver on our promise of [the] refined atmosphere...from the parking lot at the Perimeter Mall??!!

A few weeks ago, it was the Ryan Cooglar incident at the Bank of America (also in Atlanta) that had same Pick-Mees tripping all over themselves on Al Gore's internet to defend the unfounded fears of a bank teller who was "just doing her job". Color me unconvinced that it was her job to call the police on a man who presented his photo identification while making a request to withdraw money from his own bank account. I almost joined the fray, because I wondered why he hadn't asked to see a manager instead of going to the window. Then I regained my senses--why was it necessary to excuse the teller's poor judgment when all she had to do was ask for the manager?

See how the devil works? He convinces us that before we can be justified in holding others accountable for their mistakes, we have to appear before the court of public opinion without any sins or blemishes of our own. If Ryan Coogler expected to withdraw that much money from his own account, then he should have called the bank to make an appointment with a manager, arrived 15 minutes earlier than the appointed time, and with his hat in hand waited patiently for them to decide whether to grant his request. If Keisha Lance Bottoms expected to secure a seat in the bar area of TCG, then she should have been dressed like she was scheduled to appear on a reunion episode of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Or she should have gone to Ann Taylor and bought herself a pair of respectable pants or a mid-length skirt. 

And this is where I give all of these curious new commenters to my page what they came for--because I am BLACK and I know there are rules of respectability that are both written and implied. I understand the how harsh the penalties can be enforced against those of us who think too highly of ourselves in public spaces. None of us are exempt, no matter if we directed the highest grossing superhero film of all time or whether we are currently the Vice Chair of the DNC with a commentator side gig on CNN. Barack Obama is still paying the price for wearing a tan suit in the Oval Office, and y'all expect Oprah to apologize for Quick and Quack, Drs. Phil and Oz (but that ain't happening).

Because rules are rules...

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