I’M SITTING IN a coffee shop, alone, at a table for four. Normally I take a smaller table but this is the only one unoccupied. I see a grandmother and her grandson, about four years old, come to a nearby two-person table that has just become available. They are carrying their drinks and grilled-cheese sandwiches. The grandmother is looking around with a pained look on her face and, after a while, asks if she can have one of the chairs at my table. I realize that her party is larger than just the two of them so I ask her if she’d like to switch tables.
She is grateful, very grateful, and tells her grandson that the nice gentleman has offered to switch tables and isn’t that nice, and so we begin the big switch. As this is going on, the woman’s daughter or daugher-in-law arrives carrying her sandwich and drink. The older woman tells her that I offered to trade tables. The younger woman says nothing, and instead begins to move my stuff out of the way so she can make room for her food and stuff. Because I was trying to hurry, I leave the black plastic coffee cup lid behind. She picks it up and unceremoniously drops it on my table.
I look up in disbelief and see a face that shouts out, “I’m entitled! Get over it!”
It’s a face I’ve seen many, many times in my life, and almost all of them have been white faces.
I’m entitled to hog this sidewalk or this hallway, and it’s your duty to move out of the way.
I’m entitled to get on that elevator and it’s your duty to hold the door open for me.
I’m entitled to get in front of you in this heavy traffic and it’s your duty to make room for me.
I’m entitled to walk through this doorway and it’s your duty to hold it open.
I’m entitled to have this last grocery cart and it’s your duty to wait for another one to come along.
I’m entitled to be waited on next at this coffee shop and it’s your duty to be patient while I get my coffee.
I’m entitled! I’m entitled! I’m entitled!
Several years ago I decided that I’d had enough and I forced myself to not hold doors open for white people even though not doing so went against all that my parents and my grandparents had taught me.
I decided that if I was walking down a hallway or a sidewalk and a white person came straight at me, I would hold my ground and force that person to detour around me.
I decided that if a white person near me accidentally dropped something, I would keep on walking and not pick it up for him or her.
I decided to not do all those nice things I had been doing for people because that is what good people do for others. I didn’t like it and I felt bad but eventually I began to get over it.
Sometimes I fail and forget my resolve, as I did today, and I do the right thing, only to get that putrid air of entitlement blown into my face.
I realize that a good percentage of the white people who read this won’t understand and might even be offended. I fully expect them to give me examples of how they have been treated similarly by Mexicans or blacks or other minorities. I will accept those examples and believe them because I know there are a lot of very angry/frustrated/fed up/etc. Mexicans/Blacks/Asians/Native American/etc. out there. They have had it with those airs of entitlement and have decided to fight back. Screw manners. Screw kindness. Screw love they neighbor. Screw turn the other cheek.
I also expect that some white readers will give me examples of how they too have had to move aside to accommodate other white people’s sense of entitlement. It’s not a race thing, they will assure me. That woman who wanted my table might have treated a white person exactly the same way, they will say.
Maybe. But when you grow up in a deeply racist society in deeply racist times when it seemed that the whole world conspired to make you believe that white people were indeed entitled to have what they wanted, when they wanted it, and it was up to you to step aside to let them have it, it’s very difficult to believe otherwise.
It’s very difficult not to rant.
I don’t expect you to understand. If you didn’t find yourself nodding in understanding when President Obama talked about walking into an elevator and seeing white women clutching their purses, you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about here. That’s OK.
I have been very fortunate in that I have many, many white friends and I have known many, many white people who have treated me with dignity and respect and have not let the color of my skin influence them. I appreciate them very, very much. It is because of them that I was able to temper much of the race-related anger and resentment I grew up with. But every once in a while something like this happens and a dark hand reaches down deep inside me and pulls at those painful, humiliating memories, making me want to scream.