Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

Sat Nam Readers!  I’m glad you could join me tonight while I tell a tale of a racist heart.

Terri, a Gora Sikh
Pal, a Panjabi Sikh
Vishal, a Hindu
J.D., a Hindu
Nice White Man

Scene:  Glo’s Grill, Haines Junction, Yukon.  It was a rainy afternoon in Haines Junction at the edge of Kluane National Park.  The clouds hung so low that even Bear Mountain and Paint Mountain could not be seen from the parking lot of the Alcan Hotel.  A cold rain came to greet the end of the long weekend.  Four friends, two Sikhs and two Hindus sought to quell their hunger with lunch before heading out into the Park for an afternoon of photography at Kluane Lake.  They chose a table in the front corner of the restaurant, where they could watch the rain and discuss their plans for the afternoon.  When they sat down, there were only two men, both Aboriginal, seated in the opposite corner.

The waitress, a middle-aged woman of generous proportions, in a bright pink top, takes several long minutes to set three menus down on the table.  The two Hindu friends go off to the bathroom to wash their hands.  While they are gone, the waitress speaks:

Waitress:  Can I bring you anything to drink?
Terri:  Coffee please.
Pal:  Yeah, I’ll have some coffee too.
Waitress:  … (says nothing and leaves)

The two Hindu friends return and wait while the two Sikh friends take their turn washing their hands.  The mood is light, despite the rain.  Alas, when they return, there is no coffee on the table.  The waitress wanders over with one more menu, leaves it on the table.  The four friends examine the menu carefully:

Pal:  What is this, it is salad, salad, salad
Terri:  All the same salad too, versions of Caesar and tossed.
Pal:  Maybe you guys can have the cheese sandwich.
Terri:  I think that is supposed to be a cheeseburger.
Vishal:  There are onion rings, fries…
Terri:  Veggie burger too.  That might be good.
Vishal:  Maybe I’ll just have fries.

After several minutes, the waitress returns with her order pad in hand.

Waitress:  What can I get for you?
Terri:  Crunchy chicken burger please, with fries and I’ll have coffee and some gravy for the fries but please put that on the side.
Pal:  Two crunchy chicken burgers please, with fries.  I’ll have coffee too.
Vishal:  Fries please and a coffee.
J.D.:  Yes fries and a coffee.
Waitress:  So four crunchy chicken with fries?
Terri:  No, two crunchy chicken burgers with fries and two more orders of fries.  Four coffees.
Waitress:  Not four crunchy chicken burgers with fries?
Terri:  No.  Burger for me and for him.  Just fries for him and for him.  Coffee for all of us.
Waitress:  Okay.  Okay.  Now I get it.

[Author’s note:  Be patient.  This dialogue is going somewhere, I promise.  Context is essential.]

The annoyed look on the waitress’ face tells the friends that she gets it but she’s not happy about it.  They shrug it off.  They are accustomed to the occasional poor service, especially in small town restaurants.  Terri thinks she’s just having a bad day and blames it on the rain.  She gets up to use the washroom again, to check her turban which feels a little loose.  In the bathroom mirror, she tucks the folds a little tighter and smooths out the sides before returning to her friends, who are watching a YouTube video on J.D.’s cell phone.  The coffee had arrived.  They laugh at the prank video and discuss it awhile.

Nice White Man had entered Glo’s Grill while the friends were ordering.  After some time waiting for the food, the friend notice that Nice White Man has got up from his seat, grabbed a pot of coffee and walked around to tables offering refills.  [Author’s Note:  Relax.  Refills are free and Nice White Man was obviously accustomed to this form of self-service.]

Nice White Man:  Refill?
Terri:  Maybe just a touch up.  Thanks.
J.D.:  A little, thank you.

The friends return to waiting on their food.  After a little while, the fries appear.  And after a while more, eventually, the chicken burgers arrive.  The orders are correct, despite the friends’ initial doubts.  The four friends set out chatting and eating their meal.  Eventually, the waitress returns.

Waitress:  More coffee?
Terri:  Yes, please and can we also get some cream?  We’ve used the others.
Waitress:  Sure
Terri:  Thank you.
Pal:  Do you have a microwave?  My coffee is cold.
Waitress:  [with exaggerated amazement in her voice].  A microwave?
Pal:  Yes, to just heat it up.
J.D.: Or you could dump it and he can have a hot coffee.
Pal:  No, it’s okay, heating it up would be fine.
Waitress:  O-kaaaaaaaaay

The waitress leaves with Pal’s cup of coffee.  Clearly, the friends had asked for too much.  The friends think it was the request to warm up a cup of coffee that put her over the top but they aren’t sure.  She returns and politely, happily, serves the other men in the restaurant.

Terri:  [who is deaf and didn’t hear part of the conversation]  Oh.  Was it cold?
Pal:  Yes.  I can’t drink it before I eat.  Then I am not hungry.
Terri:  [Nodding]  It did take awhile for the food to come.  Considering the restaurant is practically empty.

The waitress eventually returns with Pal’s coffee.  She places it in front of him and clearly exhausted (or more likely that was haughty sighing that escaped her), she sighs loudly.  

Waitress:  [Haughty, yeap, that is what it was] Now it that everything?  Have I forgotten anything else?
Terri:  The cream for the coffee?
Waitress:  [Eye roll]  Okay.
Vishal:  Also, do you have a slice of lemon?
Waitress:  [Up the haughty here] I don’t have lemons.  I don’t think I’ll ever have lemons.
Vishal:  Okay.

The waitress leaves to get cream.

Vishal:  What…?
Terri:  Don’t even worry about it.
Vishal:  She’s pretty rude.
Terri:  Yeah.  [Rude, right, that’s what’s going on here, she thinks] Don’t worry about it.  Let’s just eat.

The friends talk for a while more, finishing up their meals.  They pile the empty creamers into the bowl and put their napkins on their plates.  Before her friends get a chance, Terri makes her way to the cash, alone.  She can hear her friends in conversation and figures they will be at least a few minutes.  Just enough time for her to test a theory she has.  The waitress arrives at the till.

Waitress:  [Suddenly pleasant to the white girl in the turban] Are you getting everything?
Terri:  Yes.
Waitress:  [Giving Terri the amount]  So where are you all headed today?
Terri:  [Working the debit machine] Into the Park.  Kluane Lake and Sheep Mountain.
Waitress:  {Broadly smiling]  I hope you get to see it with this rain.
Terri:  [Skips the machine over the tip]  Yeah.  Nice to be out there anyway.
Waitress:  I hope you enjoy it.
Terri:  [Pleasantly] Uh-huh.  I want you to know I’m not leaving a tip because you were rude to my friends.  You being nice to the pale girl now, well…  we probably won’t be back here ever.
Waitress:  …

Terri:  Ready guys?
Pal:  [Who clearly missed the conversation] It’s still raining out there.
Terri:  Yeah, but it’s clearing up.
Vishal:  [Coming up behind Pal] Okay.  Let’s go.

In the parking lot…
Vishal:  She was a really rude waitress.
Terri:  I know, man.  Forget her.  We don’t need to come back here.

The friends got back in their car, leaving the racist waitress behind.  They were rained out of a nice day in the Park.  While they planned their next adventure, they also planned to bring lunch and a thermos full of chai so they would never have to deal with foolish waitresses again.

End Scene.

[Author’s Notes:  We did nothing – absolutely nothing – to deserve being treated in the haughty, aggravated and rude way this waitress chose to behave toward us.  She was perfectly pleasant to the other three people in the very empty restaurant.  What could have set her off?  It did not take long for us to realize that it was only our table… could it be that it was because we were from out of town?  Outsiders?  Well, I thought maybe, until I went alone to deal with her and she was perfectly pleasant to the one non-Indian in the group… the rude had clearly been toward the Indian men I was with.  They were nice, they were not demanding… they were the super-nice men that have become three of my favourite people.  It couldn’t have been the turban.  I wear mine.  The only reasonable conclusion is that it was the colour of their skin and their accents…]  

They tolerate this garbage and worse every single day.  In Canada.  In 2014.  It is part of even a really good day together in Kluane Park, because we can’t even avoid it in a restaurant which sees thousands of tourists through the Park every single year.

What really got me was the selectiveness of it.  It was not the turban, not just being a Sikh.  It was not just that their skin was brown, she was nice to the two Aboriginal men.  It wasn’t just the awayness either because Haines Junction, Yukon sees thousands of tourists through the Park in any given camping season.  It wasn’t the rain either, since she is capable of being pleasant to others despite the miserable weather.  It was the darker brown skin, the accents… and it didn’t matter how nice my friends were to her, she was going to be a jerk to them.

What people rarely understand is how this more subtle form of racism wears down people and diminishes their identities.  This more subtle form of racism is also contagious because it rarely, if ever, gets called out, so it becomes in some way, okay.  These men live the message of their difference every day and it is just wrong.

So there you are waitress at Glo’s Grill… you might not miss the tip you didn’t get today.  You might not even think twice about behaving that way again when you are forced to serve food to people of another race.  You might even believe you aren’t a racist, but you would only be fooling yourself.

I hope you do use this as a means of reflection though and maybe you’ll treat the next “other” who walks into your restaurant better.  Better isn’t a mystery beyond your comprehension, madam.  If you treat the “other” people in just exactly the same way that you treated Nice White Man and the two Aboriginal gentlemen who were in your establishment, and not the way you treated us, then you will be doing pretty good.

Oh and waitress?  You make me grateful to be Sikh and grateful for my Gurus direction that we are all equal.  Every single one of us.  Thank you for reminding me of what we stand for.  Thank you for reminding me that I still live in a world where our fight for “others” is still necessary.  Thank you.

Sat Nam Readers!