The Seafood's Good, But I Won't Be Back

COMMENT

July 10, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

The Crab Shanty, a restaurant along U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, serves some of the best seafood in Howard County.

It's a shame I won't be able to go there again and enjoy a meal.

My last visit was for lunch last Sunday. What began as a classic disagreement about the quality of service quickly disintegrated into the kind of subtle, racist incident that I find abominable, especially in the community I call home.

I arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes before its 2 p.m. opening and approached the hostess, who suggested I sit in the waiting area. There was one couple ahead of me.

Others began to arrive, and as opening time came, the hostess began to seat people. Those of us who were waiting were never approached to be seated first. Instead, the waitress began seating parties that had just arrived.

When I expressed my dismay that people who came in after I did were already being given tables, the hostess rudely suggested that I should get into line behind those who were at that point just coming in.

She then continued to seat other parties.

Needless to say, I asked for a manager.

Cliff Hughes, the manager on duty, arrived promptly. What happened next I did not anticipate at all.

After I expressed my anger, Mr. Hughes not only did not apologize, he offered erroneous excuses and finally, in a condescending and defensive tone, insisted there was no attempt to discriminate against me because he considered my money "as green as anyone else's."

Perhaps because race was not on my mind at the time, I was caught off guard by Mr. Hughes' comment.

I did ask, however, whether in fact he was suggesting that I

thought racism was what motivated the hostess.

He said that, indeed, he did think I was suggesting that, even though I had said nothing of the sort.

I was angry before Mr. Hughes arrived. I was fuming at this point and told him how arrogant and insulting his remark was.

Mr. Hughes, and perhaps others who may be reading this now and wondering why I would expend one scintilla of energy being upset about this incident, need to understand several things.

African-Americans, including myself, do sometimes grow extremely tired of our every act being viewed through the racially hued prism of whites.

Not only do the media at turns exploit and denigrate us, we are often bombarded with reminders in the form of suspicious stares or outright loathing.

As a black male, I can testify that the stereotypical scene of a black man getting on an elevator full of white women and having the white women suddenly clutch their purses is more than a crude generalization. It's real.

It has happened to me, even when I have been dressed in a suit and tie with a briefcase and with clearly no need of nor interest in whatever is in a white woman's purse.

Normally, I ignore such slights, dismissing them as the irrational fears of ignorant people.

Often I tell myself that perhaps white women clutch their purses whenever any man approaches, though I doubt it.

In fact, I am the person who, on this very page, criticized blacks who are too focused on racial matters and too quick to assign a racial motive to every white person's action.

Conversely, I feel I should also be given the benefit of the doubt by not having it assumed that because I'm a black man who has a complaint, I must be crying racism.

But since Mr. Hughes chose to raise the issue, let's examine it.

Had it been approached in such a way as to reassure me that my race was not a factor in my not being seated, that might have been one thing, although I would wonder how Mr. Hughes would know what caused the hostess to act the way she did since he was not present at the time.

Instead, Mr. Hughes' tone was dismissive, as if to say, Let's get this silly matter of race out the way first before I tell you what I really think of your complaint.

By bringing race into the matter when it had not even been hinted at only clouded the issue. Not only did it not address the real problem, it raised the possibility that racism was indeed an element in what happened.

Nasty assumptions are made all the time about people because of their race, and black people can be as guilty as whites in doing this.

The O. J. Simpson case is a prime example.

Rather then this being simply a tragic situation with implications about spousal abuse and the folly of hero worship, there are those who suggest publicly that the murders say something about the pitfalls of interracial marriage.

As someone who is in an interracial marriage, I find this insulting as well.

The fact is, the hostess at Crab Shanty was at best incompetent or at worst intentionally rude. A simple acknowledgment of that and an apology would have ended the matter.

Mr. Hughes' remarks were, quite simply, stupid and served only to compound the problem. As I've said, the Crab Shanty serves good seafood.

I won't be eating there, not because I think they're racists. But because I don't patronize places with shoddy management.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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