I have to share a recent experience I had in a Subway in Orlando, Fla. All I wanted was a water bottle and some peace of mind, seeing as a million things went wrong that day. I stepped into line behind an older white woman and a Middle Eastern man, while two African American employees worked behind the counter. I heard the white woman say a few things under her breath. “You’re only helping your people,” she muttered. I was in utter shock and wasn’t sure this was actually happening. Aren’t we passed racism? Isn’t it 2011? Are people really still this naïvely bigoted? The white woman continued with her quiet rants, wondering why one of the African American bothers straightening her naturally curly hair. I finally piped up; I couldn’t stand here and listen to this and not do anything about it.
I asked the white woman twice, “What did you say about her?” She didn’t acknowledge me as the two women behind the counter shook their heads. They could hear too. When it came to the choice of cheese, she said, “I’ll have extra cheese; I know you’ll charge me extra but I can afford it…Can you?”
My mouth was wide open and I was shaking with frustration. One of the girls eventually rang me up and tried to laugh it off like it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t happen to me, and yet I was so angry. Eventually the white woman ended up leaving. I wanted to ask why the employees didn’t say anything, if they would have refused service or if there was a harassment number they could have called. If I could see this woman again I would ask, “What makes you better than everyone else?” If the answer is color then I think I just lost some faith in humanity. I called my mom right afterward because I was still in shock that this event could take place, and she told me I shouldn’t have tried to get involved. That seems to be a common thought nowadays when it comes to racial remarks or someone getting raped at a party after being drugged or too drunk. People are afraid to get involved and allow dangerous situations to take place, assuming someone else will make the call. We need to take more responsibility as bystanders.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to articulate here is that people are people. No one can justify hate, but if there is hate, it must come from somewhere besides race. There are people in South Korea, texting others, going out to eat, listening to music, doing the same things that we here at Keene State College in New Hampshire are doing, but they just look a little different. People are still out there that think only of race.
Look up Rawl’s Theory of the Veil of Ignorance. He had a philosophy about, well, a veil, that everyone would be behind when making a decision.
The point is that no one knows who they will be when they come out of the veil. They could be the rich person, the poor person, the one who benefits from the outcome or the one who doesn’t. We would be one of the girls behind the sandwich counter, or an older white woman spitting racial remarks.
Wouldn’t you change that? Wouldn’t you want to live in a better world? I wonder if why they didn’t say anything to this woman was because they were afraid. I didn’t feel afraid. Maybe because I was the same as her, white, and what is she going to say to me?
Justine Miller can be contacted at