Every so often I need to check myself to see if I’m not defaulting into a stereotypical race lens when not treated fairly or respectfully – because that’s what we do in South Africa, see things through a racial lens. In these attempts to self-correct my thinking and shake off the feeling sticking to me like a bad odour, I can’t help but think that it’s not just me. That was indeed a racial jab.
I hate pulling the race card, would love injustices of the past to remain in the past and typically “get on with it” living my life and career as if there were no racial or cultural bias. Now you may say that I’m being naïve but this attitude has gotten me to rise above seeming limitations, opening doors on an international scale. When I experience discrimination I become super focused on achieving my goals. Unfortunately, until the playing field is equal for cultures all around the world to access opportunities regardless of where we come from, it’s up to my generation to be more mindful and work extra hard, strive for excellence and receive from merit. Creating a new kind of legacy will leave a more just inheritance for future generations.
Unfortunately my glorious vision and daily reality are still far removed. I also believe in keeping people accountable for how they treat me, so that they can reflect and hopefully it will result in behavioural change on an individual and institutional level. This is the reason for my post.
Two Saturday nights in a row I partied at Churchills, a bar lounge at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. Given the location and positioning of the place, I was more attentive of my attire and prepared to spend more than usual on the night out. Last week was my cousin’s birthday celebration and about twenty family members came out for the night. We had a good time despite receiving a nonnegotiable no from the manager when my cousin asked a few times if we could move to the lounge area because we were too many for the booth. She acknowledged that we should have made a booking for a larger number, but still, there was an entire lounge area empty that we could see from where we were sitting. When we asked the waitress about it, she had more fear for the manager than achieving customer satisfaction. Now, my uncles love a good whiskey so were spending on the good stuff, surely this would have covered additional cleaning costs as a result of moving us?
I returned to Churchills last night with two highly accomplished black female entrepreneurs. With it being a celebratory girl’s night out, I was in great spirits and dressed to kill in my little black dress. At the door, I asked the doorman what the minimum amount of people is required to reserve a table. He said typically six but they could come down to four people if I was here to spend. It left a bitter taste in my mouth when he added “we like coloured money”. Now you see, up until that moment, I was a Woman Of The World who had gone out on the town with my girls, later to be joined by my New Yorker friend who had just brought an international artist to the country. There was a major disconnect between my perceived self-worth and what the doorman reduced me to. While Churchills has diverse clientele, the attitude and reception of my first encounter represents their institutional view.
One of my friends who was the first to arrive last night asked a waiter if we could sit in the lounge and not table and was met with that nonnegotiable no. We carried on with dinner, drinks and dancing but then realized that all the people going into the lounge were white. We were well into our third bottle of expensive champagne so knew that we were spending quite a bit and surely qualify for VIP treatment. After taking it up with management and insisting that we be moved, we finally got to the holy grail of the place – their VIP lounge. As we ordered two more bottles of champagne, we noticed that the other two groups were not spending on anything special or ordering much for that matter. I am now stumped, because I don’t know what qualifies you for the lounge area of Churchills. When one of my friends called the manager/owner over once again to ask why we could not get in earlier his response was that he did not want riffraff sitting in the lounge. She then asked him what he sees when he looks at us beyond the color of our skin (we were dressed up after all and were having good clean fun) he got very uncomfortable and just said “I don’t want to go there”.
Discrimination is a disease and we need a strong vaccination to kill it on a societal level. Most people do it unconsciously, but it aggregates to institutional racism when not addressed. I have had two bad experiences at Churchills now, but like the place enough to return. My point is not to shutdown or boycott places – this is but one where I happened to have had a bad experience 100% of my visits. My intention is to raise consciousness of discrimination, transform society and promote business practice where all clients can experience great service in an equal society… also, I just want to be a girl out on the town having fun without this crap hanging over me!