Imagine this scene, which is a common experience for Black people:
You are receiving a service for which tipping is a customary practice. Maybe you’re taking a cab or receiving a beauty treatment; maybe having a drink at a bar or eating at a restaurant.
Your service provider is not Black. The service is poor. Your server is not at all attentive. You wait for things far longer than you believe you should or far longer than you believe others in the space are waiting.
Then comes the check and you stare at the tip tray and the internal debate rages.
Studies have shown that two things are true: Black people on average tip less, and servers on average provide Black people inferior service, in part because of the perception that they will tip less anyway. There has always seemed, to me, to be a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here.
Nevertheless, you as the person who has just received the poor service finds yourself in the middle of this war of perception with only two options, both unappealing: you can tip well anyway in an attempt to fight the perception that Black people are poor tippers. (This, after all, could possibly make the service experience a little better for the next Black person.) Or you can leave an average tip — or no tip at all — in accordance with the poor service you have received, yet risk cementing, in the server’s mind, the perception of Black people poorly tipping.
None of this is fair of course. It shifts the burden of the servers’ biases onto the innocent recipient of the service. The victim of prejudgments assuming the responsibility of mollifying the persons prejudging.
And yet, that is the very same position that Black people — and other people of color, religious minorities and women — are often forced into, or are asked to assume. This is particularly the case when the people who vote for politicians who would harm our humanity (or severely restrict our ability to pursue a life of equality) find themselves on the losing end of an election.
There is always so much talk of unity and coming together, of healing wounds and repairing divisions. We then have to have some version of the tip debate: Do we prove to them that we can rise above their attempt to harm us or do we behave in a way that is consummate with the harm they tried to inflict?
There is a legitimate argument to be made that a spiral of recriminations will always descend into a hole of collective harm. Still, there must also be an acknowledgment that the prejudiced were trying to harm you and that, but for a few hundred thousand votes in the right states, they would have succeeded in exacting that harm.
There has to be some acknowledgment that children were taken from their parents, some locked in cages, and that many may never be reunited with their parents again.
We have to acknowledge that Trump is a racist — something proven over and over again by his own words and actions — and that he still received a record number of votes for a sitting president anyway.
We have to acknowledge that he bragged about sexually assaulting women, had scores of women accuse him of sexual misconduct and was revealed to have paid off at least two women for their silence about alleged affairs.
We have to acknowledge that he has disparaged Mexicans, Muslims, Haitians and African nations.
These things happened. These people who supported him mostly knew these things happened. In many cases they heard Trump say them live on television or tweet them from his Twitter account.
And yet, his supporters still supported him. Many of them still do, even after his refutation of democracy. Many believe Trump’s lie that he actually won the election that he lost.
Joe Biden, as he has always said, is seeking to be a unifying president, to be the president of the people who didn’t vote for him as well as the ones who did. I want to have that same optimistic spirit, but I must admit that my attempts at it may falter.
I don’t want to be the person who holds a grudge, but I also don’t want to be the person who ignores a lesson. The act of remembering that so many Americans were willing to continue the harm to me and others and to the country itself isn’t spiteful but wise.
Next month Joe Biden will be sworn in and the next chapter of America will begin. I plan to meet that day with the glow of optimism on my face, but I refuse to vanquish the shadow of remembrance falling behind me.
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