A few years ago, my family began eating Chinese/Japanese cuisine on Christmas Eve, figuring it would be a great respite from cooking dinner and help the economy. This last Christmas Eve, we decided to go to a small place in a new strip mall wedged between a Hawaiian restaurant and a nail salon.
Once inside, we saw that more than half the tables were empty, which meant the restaurant was practicing social-distancing and that we were some of the few people who had the idea of Chinese/Japanese food for December 24. We were wrong about half of this. It seemed everyone was in the mood for Ham, Fried Rice, and Sushi!
The problem was evident right away as a single waitress hurried from patron-to-patron scribbling down orders, while a single host took phone call after phone call and dispatched to-go orders at breakneck speed.
The waitress finally came to our table and took our orders, then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.
We didn’t mind the wait. We recognized that the place was severely understaffed, and we had no place to go, so we settled in. Besides, it would give us a chance to sit at a dinner table without the television blaring from the family room, and talk to one another, get to know one another, to connect. We were wrong about that, too.
A booth positioned behind our table and to the left was filled with two couples—a husband and wife on one side and a husband and wife on the other. One of the men, who suffered volume control issues, was someone who overtook all the conversations (even ours) and had the uncanny ability to slip in that he was at one time part of the Bishopric of his ward.
For those who are not from Utah or do not know what a Bishopric nor what a ward is, I’ll explain.
In Utah, the predominant religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or once called simply LDS). For the rest of the world, the religion’s patronage is known as the Mormons.
Wards are subdivided areas of neighborhoods where Mormons are assigned to specific LDS church buildings with particular time slots. Every subdivide has men appointed to that ward’s leadership, known as the Bishopric, which is considered a high honor. It’s a lot of hard work, a full-time job (on top of one’s regular full-time job) that comes without a paycheck or many benefits beyond blessings. I don’t envy the position.
For up to four years and on, people who accept the calling are M.I.A. to the rest of his family in the name of service to God and church. However, for such a prestigious but sacred position, it was strange that the man from the other table talked about it in connection to nonregular Mormon/church/ward situations like going to the movies and to a local amusement park called Lagoon. He even got, “Well, when I was in the Bishopric,” into a conversation about shopping at Target.
And because the man spoke so loudly, we couldn’t talk to each other and did little else but glance around our table and will each other not to roll our eyes. We were not successful in this endeavor. Meanwhile, our food came—well, almost.
My husband and daughter’s Sweet and Sour Chicken were placed in front of them, followed by a mountain of Ham Fried Rice on a platter. In another ten minutes, my son’s Mongolian Beef came, and then nothing. My order didn’t arrive.
After I assured my family that they could go ahead and start eating without me, we snagged our waitress and ordered again. Then nothing.
The empty space on the table in front of me was noticed by other patrons dining in and those lined up along the wall waiting for their take-out. It was embarrassing to be left out of dinner, even as I picked at the fried rice mountain and took offers from my husband and kids’ plates. I gave up!
When my family finished eating, my husband waited in line to change the dinner charge of four dinners, and I put on my coat and waited outside.
I wasn’t mad. As I said, the restaurant was severely understaffed, and the waitress was sprinting around doing her best. However, I felt too conspicuous, and the cold air and lack of people outside were preferable. So, I was out and didn’t hear it.
In a few minutes, my son came out, blushing, and headed straight for the car.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, trailing him.
“Nate? What happened?”
“The people at the other table just said that they hate going to California because there are too many people of color, and it’s sketchy.”
I stopped mid-stride. “What? They said that?”
“Yeah. Come on, let’s go.”
“Hmm. I think I need to go and talk to some people for a minute,” I said.
“No, mom. Leave it alone. Let’s just go.”
I didn’t want to, but I promised my son (who is, by the way, a person of color. And who, incidentally, is a beautiful person with the most beautiful brown color to his skin) that I would not go and talk to Mr. Bishopric. But it wasn’t okay to let his comment go, either.
“It’s fine, mom. I just want to go home,” Nate told me.
By now, my husband and daughter had come out to the car.
“What’s wrong?” Brian asked as Nate climbed inside. I was still trying to force myself not to return to the restaurant. I wondered if Brian had heard the comment. He hadn’t, and neither had my over-protective daughter, who immediately tried to storm back inside to confront the people twice her age.
Over the years, I’ve dealt with situations like these before. I’ve talked to Coaches, other parents, stopped Referees (after the game ended, of course), and have gone to parent-teacher conferences all in the name of defending my child in a way that would not embarrass him further.
I’ve learned that screaming and yelling doesn’t get me anywhere, and making a scene makes things feel worse to my son. However, I also never want him to feel like ignorance is truth, and I will stop and talk to people who offend him.
In my limited experience (I have lived in a predominantly white community my entire life), I have discovered that most insensitive remarks come from ignorance, not generally malice. *This is an observation and philosophy I’ve developed over the years. I reserve the right, however, to change it when I learn and understand better.
My theory is that the biggest disconnect among people who look like me is that they try not to see color, even though they see nothing but color, and absorb this difference by telling themselves that they are the same as someone who looks like my son. I’m not talking in terms of hierarchy and social class. I’m talking vocabulary-wise.
Non-people of color (aka white people) believe that if they change what they say in front of someone with different skin color, they are perceived as racist. However, if they continue talking like they would around people who look like themselves, they are really treating people of color as equals, almost like peers. They don’t seem to understand that it’s the mindset that needs changing altogether.
Although I’ve had plenty of practice honing diplomatic skills, my daughter has not yet learned confrontation minus the furry. My husband and I had to force our 5’1” and barely 100 lbs. daughter into the car before she dashed back inside the restaurant and stabbed someone with a set of chopsticks.
Overall, It seemed our Christmas Eve fell in nicely with the way the year 2020 has gone.
Ahh, 2020. It’s been a bad year, a strange kind of year where it seems to gain strength through abnormality. However, I get tired of hearing people say that they can’t wait for the year 2020 to end so things can get back to normal. Back to normal?
As if at 12:01 on January 1, 2021, the pandemic will evaporate, and all the isolation and frustration of the past year will become a footnote to our lives, one reminisced about every once in a while, probably in some distant future, when talking to our grandchildren. Besides arguing what normal means, going back to normal is not great for everyone.
One of the overlooked aspects of this last year is the identifying of horrible behavior. A big fat lens has been placed over the differences between people who look like me and people who look like my son. While this lens has been present for a while, it took a host of terrible things happening at the same time to get people who look like me to decide that certain, controllable terribles need to stop. We cannot merely stumble uncomfortably past the Black Lives Matter movement up to 2020 and hope that we won’t have to look at it in 2021.
Nobody thinks they’re racist, but whenever a group puts the value of skin color into ranks, that’s what they are—they are racist.
That’s what 2020 should represent, old past ills. 2021 should be dedicated towards enlightenment, a year to start a rebuild.
Let’s think of the future as forward momentum, to become better than we were an hour ago, a day ago, and six months ago. Let’s dedicate 2021 and onward to becoming better than normal!