July 29, 2010

disjointed thoughts about privilege and poor behavior in hotels.

I just returned from a family trip to the funny, sunny Pocono Mountains where some animals were encountered, amusement park rides were ridden, I was able to visit family I haven't visited in far too many years.** But mostly there was a lot of time travel. I time traveled for about a week, and I'm still not sure what year I've returned to. But whichever year it is I must say it is amazing! The televisions have more than 13 channels! And I haven't seen a single piece of overly flowered wall paper circa 1982! I'm so glad to be here; quantum physics/time leaping can be so frightening when not used appropriately.

It was a 14 hour drive. My stepfather drove, and we proved my mother wrong: you CAN pack their minivan with 3,000 pounds of luggage. (Please note: only 300 of these pounds belonged to us, thus further reinforcing my claim my mother is a victim of severe over-dramatics.) Each way, we divided our trip in half and spent the night at a lovely Holiday Inn Express in Salem, Virginia before finishing the ride to and from.

I had one WOW! experience at this Holiday Inn Express and one REALLY? REALLY?? experience.

They are as follows:

Part 1, WOW!. Traveling to Pennsylvania, on the morning we checked out.

A very tanned lady, 45-ish, dressed in full Elly May Clampett costume complete with a brunette version of Elly May's braided hair (with plaid hair bows). Ran around the lobby giving loud orders to the girls' soccer team she was supervising (all looked half asleep) and then, when no one returned to the front desk to answer a ringing phone? She reached over and answered it herself. She proceeded to have an overly loud conversation with someone who appeared to be a hotel guest that went like this:

"I don't know. I'll write a note and leave it with the front desk person. No, I don't work here. I can't tell you who I am. I just answered the phone because no one was here. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know! Look, I just answered this phone to help out. No, I don't work here.  Because no one is here right now. I'm just a guest at the hotel. They're not paying me. I don't know. I can't tell you that. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know! No, I only answered because no one was behind the desk. I'll write your number down and leave them a note. I don't know. I don't know! I'm not telling you my name. Because it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to help. Do you want me to write a note or not? I don't know! Oh, wait! Here comes someone. Talk to her."

Meanwhile, her soccer team girls were running around eating all the bacon and eggs provided in the lobby, complaining about how tired they were, and they kept taking their shoes and socks on and off and I was kind of sad C wasn't around to witness that. C has issues with bare feet. (Did you know?)

Part 2, REALLY? REALLY??. Returning home.

Melissa, C, my mother and stepfather, and I were all enjoying eggs and bacon and cinnamon buns in the lobby/breakfast nook Sunday morning. A family of four sat nearby our table--a mom, a dad, an 8 year old, and her older sister. They kept looking our way. Finally, Melissa and I got up to throw away our plates, and the 8 year old yells: "But one of them is white."

At first I wasn't sure who the 8 year old was talking about. Because, really, the entire lobby/breakfast nook was filled with only white people at that point, except for C and half of Melissa. And then the 8 year old yelled it again, with more loud emphasis on the color word this time: "But one of them is WHITE!!" And I realized my daughter and I were being looked at and talked about and analyzed like animals. In a zoo.

The most upsetting thing about this to me wasn't what came out of the mouth of an 8 year old with no social filter; what upset me the most was the fact there were two adults at that table and not one of them said anything like: "Hey, kid. You're being rude." or "Please speak more softly." or "That's none of your business." or "So?"  They sat and stared at us, mouths open, thinking--I'm presuming--the same thing their kid was voicing.

I really wanted to punch that kid in the head. But is it really her fault she's growing up in a bubble of white/social privilege and clearly isn't being taught a single thing about appropriate situations to verbalize one's arrogant bigotry vs. inappropriate situations to show one's enormous ignorance? Which means I eventually decided to spend the rest of the ride home fantasizing me punching her parents in their heads.

For those who are unaware, let me illustrate with a handful of examples what white/social privilege is:

-when you walk into a roomful of any color of people, you never have to feel like you'll have to speak more eloquently, be more polite, work harder at being friendly so anyone who may have preconceived ideas and notions about people from your cultural or skin color background will (a) have those preconceived ideas and notions proven wrong at least this one time, and (b) feel more at ease with you.

-you can do well in a challenging situation and no one ever tells you or insinuates to you that you're a credit to your race.

-no one ever really focuses on your race, including you.

-you can easily buy books, cards, toys, and magazines featuring people of your ethnicity and cultural background. You never really have to search very hard for these items, and nobody has felt the need to invent a company exclusively catering these items to people of your ethnicity and cultural background due to the fact these items are never hard for people like you to find.

-you can take a job with an affirmative action employer, and nobody's going to get disgruntled about your presence, assuming you got the job based solely on your race or gender.

-you can think over and choose from many life options: political, social, educational, professional, creative and otherwise, without having to worry: would a person of my skin color or gender or sexual identity or linguistic or ethnic background be accepted at this?

-if you're in a position of leadership and find out you're incredibly bad at it, it's very unlikely someone will gossip about you behind your back, insinuating to others of like mind that you're failing because of your ethnic heritage, cultural or socioeconomic background, or your skin color.

 But mostly: privilege means never having to think about where you're at, who you're with, if a certain city will be safe or comfortable for you and your family to visit. Privilege is never having to wonder if someone is staring at you because they think your shirt is cute or are they secretly annoyed/grossed out/angry that interracial relationships are now legal? Privilege is kind of just knowing you have options and the system will eventually work in your favor, even if affirmative action still exists to piss you off. Privilege is getting to eat microwaved omelets in a hotel lobby without some snotty 8 year old and her family judging you and your family for something that isn't even remotely affecting their lives one single iota.

I'm writing all of this here because it's what I deeply wish I'd had the courage to say that kid and her family. If nothing else, I regret not walking over to them and saying what I say to a few of of the 6 year olds I work with who--at the beginning of each school year--inevitably want to know why I married Mr. C when his skin is brown and mine is white: "Because I loved Mr. C and Mr. C loved me. So we got married. And now we have a little girl, and she is both brown and white. Is it okay for people with different skin colors to live together and be a family?"

(For the record: I've never, ever had a child answer "No." They always (always) either have seen how silly their question was or recognized by the tone of my voice that their question was really inappropriate.)

Instead, I took Melissa back to the table and began my predictable process of passive aggression: pointing to the 8 year old and her family, saying something like, "You'd think in the year 2010 people would at least teach their children to filter the bigotry in public spaces." Shaking mad.

I don't know if anybody at the other table heard me. They were too astonished at the other interracial family that just walked into the lobby. And one of them was WHITE.

**Much lighter and far more amusing photoblog/documentary to follow.


  1. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

    I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express with my favorite gay ex-boyfriend a week or so ago and nobody pointed at us or said anything while we ate our breakfast at all.

    But both of us were white.

    (BTW- I consider myself a credit to my race. Especially after reading this.)

  2. SO- the reason that was so brief was because I started commenting Amy's blog with about two minutes left before I had to go rinse out the fire truck red haircolor from my hair. Not good planning. Then of course, that two minute time frame did not allow time for trying to remember my bloggy password so I would not look like some anonymous blog stalker.

    All is well. Hair is feisty again.

    My point above was: it was a far, FAR weirder thing that Al and I were staying together and at breakfast in a Holiday Inn Express (or actually when I think about it real hard, that we are ever ANYWHERE together thirty years later, and it happens more often than you would think) than that your lovely family was.

    But that was your point, wasn't it? We have the privilege. He's not flaming, we're middle aged now, we just looked like some old, uninteresting couple having breakfast.

    Heh-heh. Little do they know.

    Next time you plan a trip, let us know. We'll come too and stage something that will have the rest of the hotel guests wishing ALL the people at breakfast were as lovely and well-mannered as that attractive couple over there with their beautiful little girl.

  3. You told them. Well put.
    I often wish I could say the right thing. I stumble and bumble (and like you say - more articulate in writing than in person).
    People are idiots. That comment deserves a punch in the neck. I don't care if the child is 8.
    Can't wait for photos!!

  4. Margy--my attractive family and I would help you and your feisty hair and your non-flaming gay ex-boyfriend create a scene to make prejudiced people squirm uncomfortably in any Holiday Inn Express anywhere in the country, any day of any week. Just let me know!

    (It's probably for the best you and your friend weren't there last Sunday. I think being exposed to two interracial families was all the diversity they were equipped to handle in one morning. Add a proponent of social progress traveling with her gay ex-boyfriend would have just made their heads explode. :-)

    Erin: If they ever invent a pill that makes you completely articulate under any pressure, in any situation, I'm pretty sure you would be well-paid (I'd just be dangerous :-).


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