Dining while Black


Hipster folks, I’m trying my best. But it’s very difficult to chill when I am made to feel like a foreigner every time I step into one of your foodie establishments. 

How can your bearded cabal of manufactured cool thrive on cannibalizing cultures not your own, and at the same time stare at me with that Living Colour Funny Vibe whenever my Black self graces one of your burger barns, taquerias or “flat white” cafés? 

Can’t you taste the bittersweet irony in the fact that music created by people who look like me is blaring from your speakers as your host, covered in sailor tattoos, gives me the suspicious once-over? “We don’t take reservations so you’re going have to line up outside,” she says.

Sometimes, I just want to order an artisanal handcrafted lobster roll without getting the feeling that it’s somehow unusual for me to do so. Or be able to sit in a dimly lit speakeasy while a gentleman in a bow tie and handlebar moustache concocts a $16 cocktail for me, without becoming more of the show than the actual show.

Now the controversy over Hong Shing restaurant comes along to remind us that it’s not just white-owned establishments practicing discrimination against us, but also other people of colour.

Is it just paranoia? Am I creating issues that aren’t there, or committing the cardinal sin of imagining veiled racism where it doesn’t exist? 

A funny thing happens when a person of colour mentions the possibility of racism to white people: they almost always say it’s all in your head. Cue the gaslight

James Baldwin once said “to be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I don’t know that I find myself enraged so much as confused. 

These things don’t manifest themselves in white hoods and burning crosses like the Jim Crow era in the American South. In Canada, as a former British colony, we take a much more reserved and unseen approach to our discrimination. Though mostly unseen, this type of subtle racism is still felt, and still very much sucks.

I see it in the faces of the security guards in suits circling as I write this in a fabulous boutique hotel lounge downtown. What could I have done seated in front of a laptop and a glass of Riesling-Gewürztraminer to elicit their glances?

At one of the city’s best restaurants earlier this year, the host is quick to mention the restaurant is booked before even thinking to ask if I have a reservation. The looks on the other diners’ faces as I pass suggest they are trying to figure out what someone like me is doing in a place like this. The vibe is everywhere.

It’s in the sometimes lacklustre or absent-minded service provided by wait staff. It’s in the way the bill is dropped in front of my date (or white friends) instead of me, as if there’s some doubt that I can afford to pay for the meal. It’s in the pressure for me to tip well even when the service could have been better because I feel saddled with the responsibility to shatter a stereotype. It’s in all the micro-aggressions I endure (intentional or not) as a Black person in a white establishment that are, some will definitely say, all in my head.

There are those of my own ilk who say I should stick to patronizing Black-owned businesses – the assumption being that I don’t (which is untrue). I have to ask these people when it became acceptable to not go somewhere because it’s owned by someone who is not Black. 

I don’t like the idea of anybody being allowed to keep me out of a place by making me feel like I don’t belong. It’s not just keeping you out of a place. It’s keeping you in your place.     

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