The Class Divide

I have never felt as discriminated against as I did today. Today, under the guise of the Drexel Senior Experience, I was invited to a business etiquette dinner. This dinner took place at one of the most exclusive and prestigious city clubs in the Philadelphia area and while I will not name names, it should suffice to say that my experience at this club was an eye-opener.

The club was very lovely: wooden floors, classy furniture, an extensive library on the 2nd floor…, and the dinner served later that evening was lovely as well – with impeccable service to boot. In fact, my feeling of discrimination cannot be justified by any of the actions or attitudes of the club’s staff and if not for the strong impression it left on me, I would not be writing this article right now.

As I said, the service was impeccable. The servers were well mannered, and the maitre-d’ maintained a visible presence on the floor while directing his subordinates like a master conductor at the orchestra.

He was a white man; perhaps in his mid-late 30’s; dressed smartly in a black tux with twin-tails. His servers came out one by one, they were equally well dressed, and other than the occasional “you’re welcome,” they did their jobs and kept their mouths shut. The only sign of their presence, the coming and going of the dishes on the table.

All was as it should be, and the dinner progressed smoothly. But upon the appearance of the 4th server on the floor, I began to feel a little uncomfortable. The first server had been black. As was the second, and the third. Now for the fourth time, here was another smartly dressed black waiter on his way to serve. Did no other races work the tables in this joint? No Mexicans or Asians? No other white men!?

It didn’t help matters that every one of these servers reminded me of Morgan Freeman in Driving Ms. Daisy. The picture of a happy black slave.

But just as Morgan Freeman was not actually a slave in that movie, neither was this monochrome display the result of discrimination. This is what my reasoning told me, yet my feelings shouted something different.

In that place, at that time, it seemed to me that there was no way this all-black waiting staff was the result of chance. It was an outcome of choice. The club must have a hiring policy that favours black waiters! They must enjoy having black people at their command! After all, this club has a long history dating back to the times of slavery. It would not be strange at all, if their predominantly wealthy white members enjoyed the feeling of superiority given by a black waiting staff.

I didn’t blame the club, I blamed their customers. I blamed the wealthy white men who I imagined snubbing the lower black classes. But that’s it isn’t it? Why imagine wealthy white men and not wealthy black ones. If the situation were reversed and it was an all-white waiting staff, would my mental representation change? Would I think of wealthy black men instead? Probably not…

Because the truth of the matter is that nobody would picture wealthy black men, and why should they? There is only one black face in the entire Forbes 400, and she doesn’t even make the top 100. (Oprah at #139).

Intentional or not, there exists a fine line that separates the whites from the blacks in this country, and that line is class. It is a line of affluence, influence, prominence, and prestige. I saw that line today my friends. I saw it, and I thought, “Today, I have seen the class divide.”

Damola Mabogunje

Software Engineer by day, Blogger, Poet and Author, by night, I spend my days writing everything from the convex comma, to highly complex code.

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