Currency: When Money is Green and Skin is Black

Sooo, earlier this month, while at our recently purchased beach condo (MmHmm… that’s right Honey Chile, I said PURCHASED. Won’t He Do It?!?!), I had an unfortunate experience at the local restaurant. But before I break that down, let me share some of my black-back story as an Oregonian.

As a young child of the 1960’s and 70’s, I went from living in a predominantly black community in Alexandria, Virginia, to a mostly white community in North and NE Portland, Oregon, with deep pockets of black and brown people here and there. Those strategically unplanned zones of blackness that were really never intended for black and brown folk. (In fact, our state’s history shows that it wasn’t until November of 1926, that it was finally legal for black folks in Oregon to be considered as citizens, though African Americans were still greatly disparaged by whiteness) So in a nutshell, when we moved to Oregon, I experienced culture shock in addition to the trauma of being separated from most of my family and the East Coast community that mirrored me.

There were so many blatant and nuanced ways that I was taught growing up, that being black in Oregon (America) was subordinate to being white. The blatant ways included being called ‘nigger’, being told things like, “Go back to Africa!” by white kids in school and hearing about the torture that black people were continuing to experience all over the country. Being beat by police or a group of white folks, being harassed and/or unfairly pulled over by police and even being lynched or killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sound familiar? As a child, I’d hear the grownups talking about discrimination and ‘Jim Crow’.

Some of the nuanced ways white people treated black and brown folks included their denying work and housing applications, not letting their kids play or associate with people of color or restaurants informing non—white patrons that all tables were “reserved” to avoid seating and serving them. And here we are, forty to fifty years later from when I was a child, and still in some ways—not much has really changed.

Sure, there are improved laws and black people can go almost anywhere, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. (Though there are still some counties where I still feel less safe in ‘after sundown’.)

Today, black folks in Oregon (and in America) are lawyers, doctors, therapists, teachers, principals (Get it Slim!), entrepreneurs of all sorts, public officials and SO MUCH MORE, including chief of police for the Portland Police Bureau! (I see you Sista Danielle Outlaw! Shout out to Chief Danielle Outlaw, Portland’s FIRST African American woman to head the bureau!)

Yet as a black woman, there are seldom days that I am not reminded of the inequities that I experience because of hatred, ignorance and the color of my skin. Whether going outside my home or turning on the news.

This brings me back to my experience at the beach.

A couple of weeks ago was our first full stay of two weeks for an owner-shared property that we bought into last Spring, using my husband, Alvin aka Slim’s retirement funds (Slim’s money = our money. Mmhmm). Since my husband had recently accepted a long sought for principal position, and it was the beginning of the new school year, he had to return to Portland during the week with plans to return on the weekend.

I wanted to begin the following Friday night (our usual date night) following Labor Day, with a special dinner. Since we were on vacay and a sista didn’t feel like cookin’, I order a variety of entree’s including steak, crab cakes, asparagus and fish. I called the order in and arranged to pick it up around the time that my Chocolate was to arrive at the resort.

Here’s where things gets interesting. When I stepped in the the restaurant, I saw a young, white, male server/bar tender and three tables with all white patrons seated. This IS Oregon so I wasn’t surprised by that. (Though two of the three tables with much older white patrons seemed surprised to see me strollin’ into their space; but this was more of a feeling than a fact.) I stepped up to the bar and waited to be greeted and/or served. Afterall, all I needed to do was to pay for and pick up our dinner. The white server continued to wait on the other patrons without even a nod, a “hello” or an “I’ll be right with you”. At first, I thought, no problem. Maybe he’s just completing his transaction before waiting on me or ‘welcoming me’ to the establishment.

However, after waiting on the others, he still didn’t acknowledge my presence. He even spoke to a white couple that came in after me. He then proceeded to wipe down tables, never acknowledging me. At that point I was pissed because I knew that he saw me, and he made no effort to address or serve me.

I wondered why this mistreatment? Was it because the restaurant was scheduled to close soon or perhaps because someone else was supposed to help me? Was it merely a misjudgment or just poor customer service. OR… was it because I was black? (Bam! There’s that damn race card that I don’t like to play but my white brothers and sisters keep dealing them out.)

Here I was, about to spend a small fortune of $75.00, not including the 20% tip (2 to 3 times more than we usually spend on a typical date night and that is IF we even have any money to spend. Can we say, Netflix or Redbox?), at the local restaurant of a property in which I am a co-owner. (A non-financing, paid in full co-owner I might add. God is good!) And here this young man doesn’t even acknowledge my presence.

As I was thinking about walking out, a very nice young lady, also white, came out of the kitchen and greeted me right away. “Hi! Are you the call-in order?” Finally, I was seen.

The thought occurred to me to walk out as I continued to ponder other ways of handling the situation. I didn’t get ugly ‘cause that’s not my style but the idea of walking out weighed heavy on my mind. But then again, the young lady, was the exact opposite of her colleague in her treatment (or non-treatment) of me, and for that reason, I decided to take my order but not before letting her know that I had been standing there waiting for a while (about 10 minutes) and the young man never even acknowledged my presence.

She offered an apology, followed by, “That’s not cool,”

I replied, “No. That’s not cool at all.”

I first gave a lesser tip using my debit card (between 10-15%) but then I asked the young lady if she would get the entire tip or if all tips were split with the crew. Upon learning that all tips were divided amongst the staff, I decided to pay more in cash to make it more than 20%, not wanting her to get short-changed. So the biggest tips I offer now.

First of all (and I’m not saying that in my black-girl voice), I am writing/blogging about my experience, affirming that the racially motivated mistreatment of people of color is still happening. Every. Single. Day. And that mistreatment stood out more than the food which was quite tasty. Second, I am not at this time sharing the name of the restaurant (though that information could be uncovered with minimal research). Finally, my last tip I leave in the form of a poem I wrote, inspired by this experience.


When I step into your business,

I deserve to be seen.

Though my skin is dark or brown,

My currency? Like yours, green.