Fighting one prejudice while perpetuating another

A group of African Americans had an enjoyable meal at a restaurant in Murfeesboro, Tennessee and were treated well by the waitress. Or at least they thought so. But later a friend told one of them Chelsea Mayes that their waitress had posted a photo of the group on Snapchat and used a racist slur to describe the group. The management was alerted to this and after an investigation, fired the waitress.

Mayes was naturally angry, but the wording of her response was troubling.

Mayes told the DNJ that it was “shocking” and “hurtful” that the Cheddar’s waitress made such racist remarks about her and her friends, especially since they all had academic backgrounds. Mayes said that she, herself, is pursuing a degree in business administration while working two jobs.

“We are people who contribute to society,” Mayes said.

This seems to imply that if the group had consisted of poorer and less educated people, the insult would be less. That is of course not true. Using racial slurs on anyone is bad and does not get worse along with higher socioeconomic status. Poor and uneducated people also contribute to society and have just as much right to be treated with the same respect as anyone else. One could even make the case that treating them badly is actually worse, because they have less resources to fight back than better off people and are hence more defenseless.

Maybe the problem is that people in the higher socioeconomic groups move in circles where they encounter prejudice less often and think that their elevated status provides at least a partial shield of immunity. Hence it comes as a shock when they find that it does not.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Shorn of other indicators, my first interpretation of that statement was not “we are people who contribute to society, unlike the poor or uneducated”. I took her to mean “we are people who contribute to society, unlike, say, waitresses.” People in higher socioeconomic groups probably still encounter prejudice, but in my experience almost all of the ones who’ve never personally worked a service job look down on those who do.

  2. says

    @1, robertbaden

    Well…it probably depends on how we define the word “encounter.” If we are talking about in-your-face racism, then those with lower economic status probably would encounter more racism under that definition as, at the higher economic statuses, prejudice seems to work more behind-the-scenes attempting to prevent face-to-face interactions from happening in the first place.

  3. says

    This seems to imply that if the group had consisted of poorer and less educated people, the insult would be less. That is of course not true.

    There are many examples where “Less ostracized group A” have shunned “More ostracized group B” for their own benefit. “A” groups are willing to throw “B” under the bus so that “A” will gain mainstream acceptance. Including or siding with “B” might mean they won’t.

    We’ve seen “new atheists” and second wave feminists exclude black people. We’ve seen gay and lesbian people excluding trans people. And in the example from Tennessee, socially mobile black people excluding poorer black people.

    This is why the actions of Black Lives Matter at the Toronto pride parade were justified. Everyone and every group must be included for there to be social justice. No one can be excluded. Every time some group is told, “Wait your turn,” their turn never comes.

  4. says

    Well, whites always talk about how lazy blacks or latinos are, and how better off they’d be if they only got an education and applied themselves. This shows doing so doesn’t effect how a racist will treat you. And why are people assuming the speaker didn’t work as wait staff at some point?

  5. tkreacher says

    robertbaden #1

    I doubt they encounter prejudice less often because of economic or educational status. Racism doesn’t work that way in the US.

    As Leo Buzalsky #3 intimated, there are certainly factors that mitigate in your face, open prejudice and also actual racist feelings toward particular individuals based on wealth, “refinement” in speech or dress, lightness of skin and attractiveness.

    This is not to say that “good diction”, expensive clothes, light skin, Beyonce or Idris Elba’s face, and a limo driver makes someone anywhere near immune to in your face racism, but that person will almost certainly have different experiences with racism than those who are “lower” on the social and economic ladder in these regards.

  6. says

    You’re just as likely to be accused of being “uppity.” Or “privileged” while you are working two fucking jobs while going to school.
    Or a coworker get stopped by police because the cops can’t conceive of a black engineer driving a high end automobile.
    Or get followed around a store by the white saleswomen because they think you might shoplift, like my mother bitterly complained about.
    Also, just because a person has managed to achieve a higher level of education or other type of achievement doesn’t mean you don’t have close relatives who didn’t, but made your achievement possible. And you remember that. And you help them out in turn when you can, assuming you can get around their pride.. That’s my family to a tee. This is a bit of a sore spot

  7. tkreacher says

    robertbaden #7

    We may be making different points but if what you mean is a light skinned, well-dressed, “conventionally attractive” (that is usually to say more white-featured) person of color is as likely to be followed around by a store clerk or pulled over in a nice car as a dark skinned, cheap hoodie and jeans wearing, “normal” looking person of color -- I just don’t think this is the case.

    Well, I can’t say that categorically because I haven’t collected data -- but I have a whole lot of experience walking through life looking one way and seeing an unequivocal difference between how I’m spoken to and treated, how often I’m trailed by store clerks, how often I’m pulled over, stopped, questioned, pestered, n-worded and so on verses other people of color I know and see who are “more” black and less privileged than I am in some ways.

    However, this experience is certainly skewed by the male factor as well. There are a whole host of things that a person of color who looks like Beyonce will face/experience that a person of color who looks like a light-skinned Denzel never will.

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