Sunday, March 05, 2006

when you call a stranger out

On Friday night, I went with a friend to see When a Stranger Calls.

I know, shut up.

One of the reviews said that the scariest part of this movie was imagining how much Windex it takes to clean all the windows in this house, and that isn't far off from the truth. It was pretty slow-moving and non-scary. But really, this isn't about the movie.

My friend, T, was at a restaurant in Boston's Theater District, having drinks with a friend before we met for the movie. The Theater District isn't toooo far from where I work, so I set out walking to get there. I'd failed to recognize that it was sub-zero temperatures on Friday night and that I was wearing thin pants. I made it to Boston Common, and realized that by the time I made it to the restaurant, I'd have hypothermia and also need to turn right around and start walking back to the movie theater. So I did the logical thing, and stopped inside the movies, called T and let her know I'd meet her there instead, and then set upon defrosting.

I asked to use their restroom to examine my wind-blown hair and stop my frozen nose from running all over my face, and although the restroom was behind the ticket taker's stand, they waved me through with nary a glance. When I returned, I parked myself near the ticket taker's stand, leaning against the snack bar, waiting for T to arrive.

After a few minutes, two young girls wandered over from a larger group of teens to the side of the theater where I was standing. They were well-dressed, around 13 or 14 years old, laughing, and African-American. Chatting animatedly, they asked the ticket taker, who also happened to be African-American, if they could use the bathroom. At this point, I was hardly paying attention, but then the ticket taker said rather nastily, "I don't know. Do you have a ticket?" When the girls said no, she said that it wasn't a public restroom and until they got a ticket, they couldn't use the bathroom. I was surprised, because obviously I'd just been allowed into the bathroom. One of the girls said that they were waiting for a couple of friends before choosing a movie and purchasing tickets. The ticket taker just stared at the girl rudely, and shook her head no, "When you get a ticket, you can use the bathroom."

As the two girls went back to the group of teens they'd been standing with, a manager who'd been standing nearby the whole time, said to the ticket taker, "You can just tell sometimes. You can't let everyone through."

I understand that white or black, some teenagers can be intimidating, "sketchy," appear to be trouble-makers. These girls were not and did not look like anything other than sweet girls who needed to use the restroom. They were even part of a group of teens, further proof that it was unlikely they'd disappear into the theater.

I'm sure it happens all the time. I'm sure I shouldn't be shocked, but I was. I didn't know what to say. Had the ticket taker been Caucasian, I would have walked over and asked her why she let me through, and not the girls. I could have called her out as a racist. But how could I call someone out as racist who was discriminating against people of her own race?

T arrived shortly thereafter, and I recounted the story to her as we walked to our seats. I'm annoyed at myself for not saying anything, and I'm saddened that the manager confirmed the ticket taker's behavior as appropriate. Sigh. A 30 second interaction, and now it is Sunday, and I'm still stewing.


Maribeth said...

Unfortunately, teens can do a lot of damage to bathrooms in no time. I guess they might have been worried about that.
The only time I've had the guts to stand up to a stranger and call them out, is when I see someone man-handling a child. That makes me crazy and I have gone up to strangers in stores and spoken my mind. (I do try to be kind about it, because everyone has bad days), but never should a big person take it out on a little one.

ccw said...

The theater probably deals with a lot of clean up from teens. I don't know if this was racist or age based. The ticket taker might have assumed that you were not going to destroy the bathroom b/c you are an adult, not because you are white.

halloweenlover said...

I should have mentioned that she let several white teens through to the bathroom, that is why I assumed it was a racist decision. Although I'm sure you're right that teens can destroy a bathroom very quickly.

Truthfully, with my hair in a ponytail, she probably thought I was a teen too!

Ninotchka said...

Sticky situation but yeah, it seems like an age thing rather than a race thing.

I called a stranger out at a store back when I was pregnant with Anna Sofia. She sent something crashing to the floor, I immediately went to help and she stood there, looked around and WALKED AWAY. I thought she had gone to fetch help but the help never came. So I thought she was a coward who left the store. When I saw her shopping just a few minutes later I let her have it. JERK!

Nancy said...

I love to call out strangers. I am such a rule follower that I hate to see someone break the rules and/or treat someone else like crap. But it can be tough to know when to make that call... and yeah, if I do restrain myself from saying something I often keep stewing about it afterward.

Chatty Cricket said...

SUCH an interesting topic!! I was watching an episode of Oprah a few months ago, and she had the cast of Crash (Hurrah! Best Picture- I KNEW it would win!!) on and was interviewing them and various social experts on Racism. She posed the question of whether it's possible to be racist against people of your own race, or whether it's possible for a black person to be racist towards a white person, etc etc etc. It was a fascinating discussion and really pushed the issue (so to speak) of what constitues racism.

Having said that, I do agree with Nino that it was probably an age thing, but the fact that the ticket taker let a few white teens through does make me wonder. I think that age-ism is a big problem and it used to drive me nuts when people treated me differently because I was young. Being a young girl it's even tougher because people just assume you're easy to push around. I have a real hard ass streak in me though you better believe I've done my fair share of calling people out. The best example was when I was fresh out of college and working in advertising, one of the publications we used kept screwing my client over in positioning (not giving us what they promised for one and actually giving us pretty poor positioning for another), and on more than one occasion they ran the wrong creative (that's a huge deal in advertising, but especially so when your client has to print legal parameters in their creative copy and the publication gets the legal wrong!!). Anyway, we did a significant amount of business with this one publication and they kept giving me the run around because I was young, and an assistant on the account and they thought they could push me around. Well finally my boss told me to give them hell, so I did and ended up negotiating a 14% discount (huge at the time!) on all future ads run with this publication by my client, as well as an upgrade in positioning and a make good on all of the ads that had run incorrectly. Grrrr!!!

Yankee T said...

Oh, how I wish I had been there! The "sometimes you can just tell" remark sealed the deal. Whether it was age bias or racial bias, it was uncalled for. As the parent of both things (black kids who are also teenagers) I would have TOTALLY lost it. And yes, you can be racist against people of your own race. The Attorney actually called the cops after seeing a black cop arrest 2 guys, one white and one black, and treat the black suspect with rudeness and disdain, which he did not do to the white one. Since she let white teens in, it sounds much more racist than age-biased to me. I try not to be overly sensetive, but this kind of story gets my goat.

Beth said...

i hear ya -- that sort of thing really irks me. and i never know what to do. do i speak up? if so, at the time of the incident or after it has died down? do i stay quiet? and chew it over a million times. i never know what i am allowed to do. but i have noticed, since i had the kids, i am a lot less likely to take shit from anyone. i hope that starts to bleed over into other parts of my personality so i can grow a spine.

Frankie said...

Wow, I was totally going to agree about it being an age thing until I saw your comment about the attendant letting white teens use the bathroom. Wow!

ccw said...

I retract my age based theory after reading your additional comment. That was an act of racial bias.

Chris said...

You know, I tend to believe that our instincts are correct. It felt like racism and therefore it probably was.

We can speculate all day about why she let some people in, but unless you specifically ask you'll never know. My initial thought was perhaps that particular group of teens has been there before and they sneak in to the theaters without paying.

But it bugs me that we (meaning me) try to find excuses for people's behavior.