Racism

Yep. This.

I have mixed views on racism.  I should first state that I am a minority… “It only takes a drop.”  I was born in the U.S. to Haitian immigrants.  My parents came here in the early 60′s to escape a doomed country, political strife, economic misery, complete governmental corruption, lawlessness, rape, murder, maiming and lack of infrastructure.  They came to escape 400 years plundering and lack of opportunity.  

But primarily, they came to avoid a witch hunt by “Tonton Macoutes” (Duvalier’s version – at right – of the “Schutzstaffel“), whose aim was to mutilate and kill anyone who was even under the suspicion of speaking out against the government.  It all culminated in something called the “Jérémie Vespers” in which several of my Grandfather’s direct relatives were rounded up and executed.  Long story.  My family decided it was best to then get the hell out of dodge. 

Anyway, I’m a bit of an oddball in many ways.  Some would categorize me as Mulatto as I’m basically a light-skinned dude.  Both my parents, however, are 100% Haitian as were all four of my grandparents.  Haiti got “pawned” over the centuries by everyone from Spanish, Dutch, Portugese, French and English who all brought over slaves from Western Africa.  There are even a substantial number of Chinese down there somehow – not sure how that happened.  I’m a product of many of those ethnicities “mingling”over the span of a couple of hundred years.  

Over the last century or so, it’s been the United States military machine, at the direction of Washington D.C., whose been responsible for all kinds of under the covers nonsense (like occupation), supporting a handful of core old-money families with high-value commercial infrastructure investments.  Their presence, believe it or not, even supports the drug trade indirectly.  Haiti is a big layover for drug mules coming from South America into the U.S. – although few people will admit to that.  

I could pass for bi-racial, Black, Puerto Rican, Dominican, German, Brazilian, Egyptian, or a myriad of other things other than White.  But, no one ever guesses my ethnicity with any degree of accuracy.  So, when asked, I usually just tell people.  Their reactions are always the same.  Half the folks don’t even know where the fuck Haiti is nor can they pronounce it properly.  The other half say something like: “you don’t look Haitian.”  What they really mean is: I’m not dark. I don’t have my voodoo dolls and HIV monkeys with me out in the open.  I’m not squat or out of shape.  My English is perfect and would pass the Queen’s muster, etc.  Meh…

I was born and raised in an overwhelmingly Irish and Italian neighborhood of Queens. We were the oddballs out.  There were clearly segregated areas of town.  There was, and still is, about a 6×6 block area where most of the Black folks lived.  It was really, really weird at the time. Lots of the black folks that were there sold and moved out.  In the last decade or so, that area (like much of Flushing, Whitestone and Bayside), has seen a huge influx of Eastern folks – Koreans in particular.  I went to Catholic grammar and high schools where again, the Irish/Itialian contingents were the largest ethnic groups.  As you can imagine, growing up in this environment in the 70′s and 80′s, I had my share of “incidents.” It also gave me some pretty good life skills and perspective on human nature from several points of view.

What the hell does this have to do with bartending?  I’ll tell you.

No matter what anyone tells you, the world today is FULL racial-based hate, discrimination, prejudice, ignorance and segregation.  In the service industry, it’s much more pronounced than let’s say – a tightly controlled, Human Resources policed, office or corporate campus.  

Open sexual flirtation and what most folks would categorize as actual sexual harassment are the norms, not the hidden exceptions.  It’s the way it is.  Most restaurants and bars I’ve worked at are cesspits of behavior from the mainstream’s point of view.  Pretty much everyone that works there is sleeping or has slept with most everyone else that works there.  Illicit drug use is rampant.  A lot of folks have zero savings and spend most of their money drinking and eating out.  I’m not condoning or condemning any of these choices but am merely pointing out what it’s like.  These are a lot of the reasons why your Mom will start crying and your Dad will whoop you with a belt if you tell them you’re planning on becoming a bartender or waitress.  Your folks may not have a complete grasp on he environment but they’re not stupid either.

Even managers and owners are guilty of discrimination and foul talk.  I’ve worked at several bars where owners even had code words for ethnic groups to at least avoid openly recognized ethnic bashing.  Some of the most memorable were:

    • Jews = “Canadians”
    • Blacks = “Eskimos” 

Quite a large percentage of service industry front-of-house staff could not answer you if you asked them “where do you see yourself in 10 years?”  I guess this leads a lot of ignorant outsiders to assume service industry employees are losers and going nowhere.  They ask dumb questions like “So, what else do you do…” or “what’s your real job?” The reality is that many bartenders are perfectly happy doing what they do as a career and earn a handsome living.  Yes, many are transient while they pursue an acting or singing career or try to figure out the meaning of life. 

Anyway, with that picture in mind, you can likely understand that there is a lot of free-flowing, unfiltered conversation going on behind the bar.  Let me just say – in general, even in a seemingly liberal, anything-goes town like New York: white people are still hating on non-white people, blacks in particular.  The inverse is not so true.  Blacks have an innate fear and distrust of whites but it does not nearly or often rise to the level of hate.  Europeans are despised with a passion.  Effeminate or “queeny” type of men, gay or not, are often talked about and nearly openly reviled by staff.  Yes – really.  

Practical Examples:

  • When a group of portly, middle-aged white guys in suits walk in to the bar, they are instantly trusted.  They are assumed to be a business outing that will ultimately be expensed – one that results in a large tab and a resultant large tip.
  • When a group of four or five black people walk into the bar, many bartenders will cringe as they expect a high-maintenance, troublesome situation where they also expect to get an extremely low gratuity or none at all.  
  • A gaggle of Italians or French roll up to the bar, MTA maps in hand, Argyle sweaters tied around their necks, two days of scruff and barely speak any Engrish.  You’r expecting them to order 3 teas 4 different ways, a bottle of Chianti  and a double espresso with some steamed milk on the side.  You’re expecting them to sit there for 2 hours during the bar’s prime time, run up a $75 bill and leave you $.25 cents. 
In many ways, it’s a really sad situation.  It’s especially troublesome - conscious wise – when you get the frequent exception to the stereotype.  You get a customer who looks like and is dressed like  a complete thug for example.  You have extremely low expectations, treat them like shit, are defensive and mumble under your breath the whole time.  Meanwhile, they’re nothing but respectful, kind, well spoken and wind up tipping extraordinarily well.  This situation is often mind-blowing and results in a mental setback. 

I dunno… I’m at a loss sometimes.  I firmly believe that everyone is human.  Not one person on thisplanet asked to come into this world. You don’t get to choose your parents or your family and thus, your race or appearance (with the exception of the Jocelyn Wildenstein or RuPaul types).  I tend to love everyone – all people equally unless your behavior gives me reason to believe otherwise.  

 

It’s really hard at the bar though not to notice behavioral trends among ethnicities.  I’ve often thought that as much as I’d like to see racial discrimination completely eradicated, it will NEVER happen.  Why? We’re people – highly evolved, but animals none the less.  I think that to some degree it’s “natural” for birds of a feather to stick together.  There is comfort and a certain sense of safety in congregating with people who look, walk, talk, and dress similarly.  I don’t necessarily believe that all discrimination is a bad thing.  It’s simply animalistic, innate, and survival kicking in.  I don’t feel that we should be forced to be one big melting pot.  However, people in this city really should strive to have more tolerance and love of people (just for being people) who are unlike themselves. 

 

What the hell do I know? I’m just a bartender, right?

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