On the heels of this week's discussion about the underlying problem with Meghan actually being about her being the latest royal-family scapegoat, in a long line of scapegoats - particularly because she's American and half-black - I'm reminded of what happened when I wanted to date a coworker (and vice versa.)
As mentioned, my first job waiting tables (before Chi-Chis) at age 19, during college, was at Swensen's.
Let's call him "Jake," though that's not his real name, to distinguish our conversations versus another coworker below, who we'll call "Karl" - which is not his real name, either.
Jake was a year younger than me, so still in high school. He was an extremely handsome, straight-A student, who wanted to be a doctor, sang in his church choir, loved Star Trek and Star Wars, and never smoked or drank or did drugs.
And I promise you, he was the best singer I'd ever heard in real life. He was like James Ingram, only maybe a little higher voice range - maybe more like Peabo Bryson.
I think he actually applied to wait tables - but of course, they put him in the kitchen instead, and we all knew it was because he was black, and the new owner/manager was a former Miss Ohio beauty queen (with a secret cocaine habit), mostly interested in impressing good old wealthy white Kentucky Colonels and horse men ;)
(She later let one biracial guy from the kitchen wait tables, but only when one of the white staff called in and she was short.)
We did have some black girls in the front of the house, in the ice cream shop area before she came, hired by the previous manager from Massachusetts, but never waiting tables - and the new manager/owner put an end to having any black staff out front when she took over - everyone front of house was white - period.
She never actually said that, it was unspoken - and obvious.
And yet, because she was a cokehead, she regularly bought coke from one of the other black kitchen staff.
In other words, without expressly saying so, she clearly felt all black people belonged in the back, cooking her food and supplying her with cocaine.
It didn't matter that Jake was a straight-A student who sang in the church choir, who didn't do any of those things Karl did - he was black, so he belonged in the back - period :/
I was pretty naive, back then, so it took me a while to notice that or catch on to the drug dealer guy (Karl) in the back - but I finally asked myself why a line cook wore a pager - did someone have a sandwich emergency or? lol
(Actually, there were two dealers in the back with pagers, but this story is about Karl.)
And both Karl (and another head line cook) would show up on their day off, asking us to tell her he was out there or vice versa, so it was pretty obvious. And you know they didn't hang out as friends in front of her wealthy horsey set, if she wouldn't even let them up front lol.
Plus that line cook, "Karl," admitted it to me once, not long before I quit. Karl and I didn't get along at first (see below story), and I wouldn't say we were ever friends, but we finally got to a good place.
One day, I asked Karl how he'd managed not to be fired - because when he was coming down, as he frequently got high on his own supply, was in a terrible mood, and literally threw fits, to where the customers could see and hear and complain.
I knew I could ask him without having a plate thrown at me, that day, because he was in a very quiet place, that day, which was rare - he wasn't high OR coming down.
Again - this conversation below is with Karl - who is NOT the person I wanted to date ...
Karl: "Because I supply her with what she needs, if you know what I mean."
His honest answer shocked me - I didn't expect it, but that was his mood, that day.
Me: "Yeah. I do. I just wanted you to confirm it lol. I can't believe you did, but okay, you're getting real today, that's good.
Karl: "I know you babysit for her sometimes (she had a baby at age 46 with her wealthy boyfriend). She says you're her baby's favorite babysitter, so I gotta ask you something ..."
"Now, you know, I don't give a shit about her, she's a racist old hag, old beauty queen, rich white bitch - no offense - so I don't feel bad about feeding her habit. She wanna look down on me, it's my joke back on her."
"So it's like, 'Fine, Bitch, g'on, stick me in the back, treat me like shit, like you better than me. But you know you gonna call me at 2 a.m., because you need me - you can't get through one day without this shit. And you know you ain't ever gonna fire me as a cook, too, because I know too much, unless I haul off on ya. I'll get your money, though, so keep on with it. Who really in control, then?"
"Anyway, now I've held her baby a couple of times, but not much. I guess I feel bad. I worry that baby ain't right, though. Is she okay? That's the only thing I feel bad about. It ain't that baby's fault she's such a bitch."
Me: "Well, she is a little slower in development, that's true, but she was premature and that's not unusual for the first year with preemies, so we don't know yet, if it's prematurity or ... that. Sometimes these things are also age of the mother or genetic, too, and sometimes they just happen. She's not TOO far behind, though, and seems happy. But yeah, that's something you might want to think about before you continue this - erm - career? You're still pretty young, you can change it? Dang, I thought you were hard, look at you, showing all this heart lol."
Karl: "Hehehe, yeah, I've had to be. You don't even know! It ain't that easy. You white folk think it's so easy. But we don't come into this world with the same as you do. Jake's family, his Mom and Dad, they together. They don't have much, but they have a little. I came from nothing. I lived in the projects, the actual hood, not even some little house, like he did. I didn't even know my Daddy."
"I could work my ass off cooking people's food until I die, plus a second job, but I ain't never gonna have what white folk and college grads have for their families."
"I ain't never going to go to no college. I'm dyslexic, I don't read right. I'm pretty good at math, but it don't matter. I'm a black man from nothing, so I'll always get stuck in the back so nobody sees me or hears me. Dis the only way I'm going to get for my son what he need, maybe he can go to college."
"Sometimes, when I throw those fits? It ain't just me coming down, I just let everybody think that. It's like I'm saying, "I'm here, Bitch. I got a mind and a voice. We ain't gonna always stay hidden for your white ass. Someday, we gonna be heard and seen."
"But right now, my girl and my baby, we have a nice apartment, I don't live in shit anymore. No shots in the middle of the night or sirens. My baby won't have to grow up with nothing, like I did. We the only n'rs on the block, and people stare like "whaaa?", but I don't care - I'm living large, and it feels good! lol."
Me: "I get it. I mean, I haven't lived it, but I get it. And you're right, she's never gonna put you out front. But there's nothing shameful about being a line cook, if you have to, at least it's honest - but you won't always be here. And it's better than worrying if the coke you sold to some uppity rich white bitch coke addict also affected her unborn baby, right? Or going to jail and never being able to get another job BUT a line cook, if they'll even hire you for that, because it's a felony?"
Karl: "True dat. I'm pretty good, now, I cover shit well, and right now, she cover for me. And I put a little away for him, in case I don't. Shit, I don't know. I'll figure it out. Damn, if I'd known you were this cool, I wouldn't have been such a dick to you. I thought you was like her, little church girl, future white rich-bitch beauty queen, judging and looking down on me. I thought you thought you was better than me. That's why I gave you so much shit. I couldn't say that shit to her and get away with it, she'd fire my ass from here and have a real reason to, but still call me in the middle of the night for her shit, only now I don't have no cover job."
"But I could you, and get away with it, I thought you was going to be her one day. You look like you'd be just like her to me - but you definitely ain't."
Me: "Thank you: ) Yeah, I get that a lot. I don't know, there must be sign or something on my face that appears to say "I'm a spoiled, rich white bitch," but I assure you, I'm not. People assume a lot of stuff, don't they?"
"Well, I WAS a sheltered religious girl and naive, working here and college has been a huge wake-up call to the real world, you were right about that - but can I be honest? I prefer it to crazy whack-job world. It's a different kind of crazy, too much hypocrisy."
"But I'm definitely not thinking, "Oh, I'm better than Karl a sinner" lol. Mostly I'm thinking, "Please don't throw a plate at my head today because you're coming down" lol."
And I'm not a beauty queen or rich. My life hasn't been what you think. People really didn't think I was cute growing up and still don't, actually. You're right, I don't have banging boobs and a banging butt lol. I went to school with truly beautiful, wealthy suburban Cincinnati girls; and if they weren't, they could just fix it with plastic surgery. There were at three nose jobs in my graduating class that I knew of, though I suspect there were more. I don't think you can get your wisdom teeth pulled twice, can you? lol I was nothing in comparison to those girls."
"I get student loans and work full time, plus babysit for her, and my family thinks I'm shit. I've struggled more than you'd think, I've seen my own share of crazy shit. Not as much as I'm sure you did, but yes"
"Our family shit just happens behind closed doors, we just don't talk about it and do a lot more pretending, and most white people can afford to pay to cover it all up and sue somebody for saying otherwise - but it's the exact same shit. White people just pretend like it isn't the same, that they're better, then secretly send somebody off to expensive rehab or "their aunt's house for the summer" when pregnant, or go have a secret abortion in another state, though they're on the school's Right to Life committee lol."
" I know you aren't born with the same opportunities and you have to do what you have to do to survive. I get it. I'm not judging you."
"But I did misjudge you at first, too. Not because of what you felt you had to do for your family, but because I thought you'd become so hard from it that you had no heart anymore. Glad to see I was wrong. And I'm glad to see the real Karl when he's NOT coked up or coming down from it. He's not a bad guy :)"
Karl: "Cool" (giving me a dap). "You not like most white girls 'round here. Well, most girls at all lol. You gonna tell nobody about this, right?"
Me: "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. I think you know that. And I get it, you're just trying to survive and provide for your family, be there and provide for your son because your dad wasn't there for you. Just promise me you'll think about whether you wanna stay in this game, a little more? You also might wanna think about not getting high on your own supply. Not only can you not think clearly, but it hides who you really are, your heart ;)"
Karl: "I will. Cool. You cool. We cool, now." :)
And I kept my word - I never told a soul about that conversation - until now :)
And he never said a bad word about or to me, that day (at least as far as I know).
In fact, every now and then, he'd just give me a slight wink through the line window and we'd smile - a shared secret.
I'd tap my head, like, "You better think," and he'd laugh and nod his head "Yes."
Sadly, I wish I could tell you our conversation made a difference in his life, too, but it didn't - these issues are never that simple, there's layers and layers to them.
Including the fact that he was addicted himself. And he was finally fired about a year later - I was told because he threw one of his fits at the wrong time - she was trying to sell the place and he threw one when a prospective buyer was there and she lost the sale.
And I was told, later, that both he, and the other dealer cook, ended up in prison for dealing about a year after that. So much for his son living better than he did :/
Anyway, point being, Jake the straight-A student, who never drank or touched drugs, sang in his church choir - got stuck in the back with her coke dealer - simply based on the color of his skin :/
Regardless, Jake and I clicked immediately. He had that spark of intelligence, plus an insight into people and things that only smart people have. We got each other, immediately.
He had the same quirky and sarcastic sense of humor, and we loved the same kind of music (which is pretty much all music.)
So on slow days or snow days, we'd sing duets in the kitchen - everything from "Somewhere Out There" from "An American Tail" to "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and everything in between.
He was very philosophical and spiritual, like me, but also balanced that with questioning everything and his rational mind.
We'd discuss topics from our faith to racism to Beavis and Butthead lol.
Basically, we were just a couple of nerds that most people didn't get. I mean, everybody liked us and vice versa - but I don't think they really understood us lol.
One day, we acknowledged that we were attracted to each other - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - so we talked about what would happen if we actually dated.
Jake: "How would your family feel about that?"
Me: "Well, as you know, I will never get their approval, no matter what I do. Have you ever seen a single of member of my family come in here, like your family? No. Maybe my mom, once, asking if she could get an employee discount for her food - and it's just a step up from fast food lol."
"My grandfather would be fine with it. Probably my sisters. However, my mom and grandmother would freak out for a while, because they talk a good anti-racism game, but I've asked them what would happen if I wanted to date a black man before, and they gave me all the typical 'white' excuses like, "Oh, it'd be really hard on your kids" and "just don't let anybody see you, I don't want to have to answer for it."
"But they'd get over it eventually. Like I said, I'll never get their approval, no matter what I do. What about you? How would your family feel about you dating a white girl?"
Jake: "Well, as YOU know, because you've met them, my family is actually very supportive of me, which I'm lucky that way, but otherwise, same thing. Some of them are, well, just plain racist, after some stuff, but most aren't."
" In fact, I mentioned the possibility to my mom already, and she guessed it was you. She could tell I was kind of 'sweet on you,' as she put it, and vice versa, when I introduced her to you and everybody that day. But mostly, she said she'd fear me getting hurt. Not by you, she liked you, but she says that are more people who aren't like you in the South, than there are people like you - and if anything goes wrong, I'd automatically get blamed by them and assumed the worst motivations. And most of the nasty stuff would come at me instead of you. And as you know, most white people here assume a lot of things about me that aren't true, just because of the color of my skin."
Me: "Well, that is definitely true - especially here in the South. Even if something was 100% my fault, you'd get blame. Well, maybe not so much in my family, it'd be a toss-up between you and me as who was the most worthless, lol, but yeah, you'd probably get the brunt of it from Southern society in general. People would treat you badly, but I'd be fine. I might not even know or notice until you told me, too, because I wouldn't be the target. And you're not the type to tell me every little thing wrong, anyway ;)
"I don't want you to get hurt, J. I'd do my best to defend you, shield you, and notice everything that comes at you, but sometimes we just don't notice, because we're not the target. And I couldn't shield you from all of it, because let's face it, women are just one step up on the social scale from you, but still on the bottom lol - and I know you'd never ask me too. So you would suffer most. And our relationship might suffer."
"So that's kind of selfish, when I think about it, isn't it? I mean, it's very easy for us, as white people, to say "We don't care what people think, I'm dating them anyway" - but we're not considering how much harder it actually is for YOU. You'll get the brunt of it and all the blame."
" Dang, relationships are hard enough without all of THAT on top. So let's think about this some more, we have time. It's not really fair of me to ask you to go through that - I can't guarantee you I'm worth it! lol. "
"I mean, I've seen some awfully pretty girls come in here for ice cream, sneaking peeks at you through the food window, and giggling with each other over you. It's not like you don't have plenty of other options. I'm sure you can do much better than me lol ;)
Jake: "Yeah. Those are all girls from my church. Their mothers already have me married to about 5 of them, in their heads lol. They're nice, but, you know, I've known them since we were kids, and they're still giggly little girls to me. But yeah, let's think this through some more."
Actually, come to think of it, I did have a discussion with my grandparents about it.
But I was sly - I wanted to see how they'd react if I first told them everything great about him, then mentioned his skin color ;)
Me: "Well, I'm thinking about dating him. Not only is he handsome, but he's a straight-A student, doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs, sings in his church choir, and he wants to be a doctor and likely will be. We like a lot of the same stuff, movies, music, philosophy, faith, science. He's fairly quiet, but when he does talk, it's usually funny - like comedian funny - or pretty profound. He gets me, when a lot of people don't, here, and I get him."
Granny: "Oh, well, this sounds promising - when can we meet this young man? He's sound very respectable, a good Christian boy."
Me: "Well, we haven't actually dated yet, we're just talking about it. You see, he's black."
Granny drops her fork.
Granny: "Beg your pardon? Did you say ... 'he's black?'"
Me: "Yes, I did."
I looked at my grandfather slightly smirking and amused, by the clever presentation, but refusing to look up at me while eating, to remain uninvolved. Plus, I already knew I had his blessing ;)
Me: "So, would you still like to meet him?
My grandfather starts laughing, nearly spewing his milk.
Granny: "Well, yes, of course. I mean, I'm not racist. But what will people say? There's something else I'll have to answer for."
Me: "Well, they already say a bunch of stuff about me, in this town, because of Mom, that you know isn't true, and you don't defend me out of fear of her, so who cares?"
Granny: "But what about your kids?"
Me: "Geez, Granny, I'm 19 and we haven't even had our first date, and you're talking about sex and kids?"
Granny: "I'm not a racist, but I just think people need to stick to their own, it's harder for your kids if you don't. And we're not racist, they are. They don't like us white people."
Me: "That's not true. You don't even know any black people enough to know. And even if it were true, I can't say I blame them, we haven't been very nice to them and still aren't. And do you mean harder than life was for us kids with our abusive white Dad? Because I doubt that."
My grandfather sat back in his chair, folded his hands on his table, and waited for her answer - which never came ;)
Me: "Okay. Got it - you were all about meeting him and me dating him until you found out he was black. Now, it's I should "stick to my own," even though he gets me more than most white men, and vice versa. Well, we're just talking about it, weighing how hard it would actually be, in the South - particularly for HIM - so you can start eating again."
But then just after that, Ben started to work at Swensen's - and I immediately fell hard for Ben - Ben was my first true love, and I still think he's a wonderful person - so Jake and I never ended up dating.
After I quit working for Swensen's and went to work for both Chi-Chi's and Clinique, during college, I saw Jake again at the mall, one day, when I was 8 months pregnant (by Z, not Ben - Ben and I had broken up 3 years earlier).
He gave me a big hug :)
Jake: "You look radiant, you're literally glowing. I've never seen you look more beautiful. And I know this sounds weird, but ... can I touch your stomach? I know that's weird, but I'm in pre-med, and I'm just fascinated with the human body's ability to create and care for a child."
Me: "Aw, thank you, J, you have no idea of how much I need to hear a man say that, right now. And of course, you can! And thank you for asking, most people don't. Total strangers just come up to me in the mall and start rubbing my stomach, it's weird lol. And of course it's weird, but we're nerds, remember? LOL. And let's say it's a good luck rub, because you're pre-med, gonna be a doctor, just like you said, hoping it'll rub off on my baby! lol.
Jake: Yeah, so far so good. And yes, I do have some idea of how much you need to hear that, because I know the kind of men you dated after Ben lol. Oh my GOD, there's a little baby Chrystal in there, that's amazing!
Me: "Or a Baby Z. Or some combination of us both. Hopefully, only our best parts? lol."
We chatted about a half-hour or so, then I didn't see him again for almost 30 years later - about 6 or 7 years ago, at Kroger.
I was picking out vegetables, looked up across the bins, and there he was.
Me: "Oh my God, J! Do you remember me?
Jake: "Oh My God, Chrystal? Of COURSE, I remember you, how're you doing?
Me: "I'm great! OMG, last time I saw you, you were in pre-med and you rubbed my very pregnant belly at the mall, for luck lol. So are you a full doctor now? Are you married? Do you have kids? Oh my God, I'll shut up, that's too many questions, but it's so good to see you!"
Jake: "No, I totally switched gears later! I have a master's degree in criminology, and I'm a detective for the LFCUG Police Department, crimes against children. I'm divorced. One daughter, who I left out in the car. "
"Okay, wait - that did NOT sound right - I'm like, 'Hey, I'm a detective for child crimes, but I left my baby out in the hot car alone!' LOL."
"NO! I mean, she's 12, and I parked in the very front slot, the doors are locked, and I can see her from here. I'm just grabbing some potatoes, real quick, for a 4th of July barbecue, and I knew she'd want a bunch of candy and stuff, too, if I let her come in, and we'd be here an hour lol."
Me: 'Hahaha!" No, I knew what you meant, but that's hilarious. Next morning, from page of the Herald Leader says "Lexington Child-Crimes Detective Leaves His Baby in Hot Car," or some nonsense, though that isn't what happened.
Still hilarious. Still gorgeous. Still brilliant.
I told him I was divorced, too, but was now with a man who treated me better than any man ever has - with the exception of Ben (whom he knew and liked), and I was really happy after a rough time.
Jake: "That's great! You know I liked Ben, but I know you had a tendency to date jerks after him, I couldn't figure that out."
Me: "Yeah, so ... that was self-punishment, both for expecting him to make up for my Dad, too much, and breaking up with him to see what else was out there. I apologized, though. And he forgave me. I never felt like I deserved Ben anyway. But that's more fodder for my therapist, so let's not go there lol."
Jake: "Nah, you were never as bad as all that. You were always too hard on yourself. But we understood. Ben was a patient lad lol. But I'm glad you figured it out. Sounds like you got your head on straight now lol."
Me: "Well, I wouldn't say that, but better. It took me long enough lol. Yes, he was - and yes, I think I have (knock on wood), but I'm not sure any of us ever figure relationship stuff out completely!"
Jake: "Huh, right? You doubted yourself and were almost shy - but I also remember - and this is probably weird and inappropriate, but-?
Me: "The freezer thing? LOL! God, I'm so embarrassed about that, I wondered if you remembered that."
Jake: "Yeah, OMG, I was afraid to say it, but ... yeah. Karl, some of the other cooks, and even some of the servers were giving you shit for having a "flat ass" in your work pants, they were relentless. In fact, I think they started calling you "flat ass" instead of your name."
Then you were like ..."All right, that's it! C'mere ..."
"Then you took them in freezer - and of course Danny and me HAD to follow them - you know, just to chaperone you and all, make sure you were okay and all, right? ;) lol ..."
" Then you turned around, unzipped your pants, dropped them - and mooned them - and you were wearing a thong - then zipped back up and said ..."
"See? I don't have a big butt and I'm no supermodel, but I told you, these stupid work pants flatten butts!"
"Now that we've definitely established that my ass is, indeed, NOT completely flat, can we stop valuing me solely based on my ass and talk about something else, please? And by the way, my name is Chrystal - not "Flat Ass!"
"... then you pushed past them and walked out."
"Hahaha! It was awesome! OMG, I couldn't believe you did that, but yeah, so ... nobody said shit about your ass after that day lol. Not only did your standing up for yourself shock us, but if your ass was ever mentioned again, I won't repeat it, but let's just say it was in a good way LOL."
Me: "Hahaha, really? Okay, let's be honest, my ass was never great, but it wasn't as bad as they were saying, either. I did notice it all stopped, after that, but I kinda thought they were now just terrified of me as some kinda psycho."
Jake: "No, it ... definitely wasn't that. They didn't want to admit they were wrong and that they were teenage boys that didn't know shit about what women's asses looked like outside of clothes, they hadn't seen many, if any lol. Plus they were shocked that meek, shy little you finally stood up for yourself. It was freaking genius and hilarious."
Me: "Geez, who knew that literally showing a bunch of bullying teenage and college boys your ass was the way to actually earn their respect? Well, trust me, that ass was never great, that's true, but regardless, it's long gone now, so that would never fly today lol. God, I hope that wasn't the first thing that popped into your head about me lol"
Jake: "No, hahaha, the first thing I remembered was us singing. I just remembered that because of the subject matter; you were almost shy, but if people pushed you, you'll put them in their place."
"Listen, I know it's bad timing, after that story, but I swear, I'd love to talk longer and it really is good to see you, but like I said, my daughter's in the car, I better not stay. But you know, if you or your boyfriend ever need anything, or just hang out with us sometime, here's my card."
Mark came up, I introduced them, and as he knows, he was more than a little jealous of any guy I spoke to, in those days, due to past experience with his ex-wife, so I said my goodbyes by saying how impressed I was with him, I always knew he'd be successful, say hello to his daughter for me, and stay the awesome person he was.
Then I reassured Mark that I was over-the-moon happy with him, no one even compares - and I would never leave him, for J or anyone else.
He liked that - and it's 100% true:)
But yes, that's what it's like - still today (probably even more openly) - wanting to date/dating someone of a different race - and actually, not just in the South, if Britain is any indication.
As I said, I didn't care what people said about me - but in the end, I didn't want HIM to get hurt. I knew he'd get the brunt of it more than me - that people would treat him badly/hurt him/make assumptions about him, based on his skin color alone.
And I believe that's exactly what we're seeing with Meghan and Harry now :(