Hipster folks, I’m trying my best. It is very difficult to do when I feel like a foreigner on familiar soil almost anytime I step into one of your establishments.
How can your bearded cabal of manufactured cool thrive on cannibalizing cultures not your own, and stare at me with that “Living Colour” style funny vibe whenever my 6 foot 1 Black self graces one of your burger barns, taquerias, or cliched “flat white” cafes? Can’t you taste the bittersweet irony in music created by people who look like and experience their existence from the same melaninated worldview as me, blaring from YOUR speakers, as some malaise hostess covered in sailor tattoos gives me the up and down at the door of their overhyped establishment?
The “we don’t take reservations so you have to line up outside the door” recently opened establishment on some rapidly gentrifying strip of concrete. Is this what Big Freedia feels like everytime Freedia hears her vocal presence in pop hits without being invited to co-star in the video? You are infatuated with Motown and STAX basement parties for the skinny jean plaid shirt set, gyrating offbeat to Otis Redding howling Black Georgia blues into the night without a negro in sight. Do you really not see this as another example of White people loving everything about Black culture, while managing to stay weird as anything around any actual Black people? Is this your attempt to “kill the Whiteness inside” by using Black people and Black culture as ironic props for your cool factor?
Sometimes, I just want an artisanal handcrafted lobster roll like everybody else, without the feeling that it’s somehow unusual for me to do so. I want to sit at a dimly lit speakeasy bar while a gentleman in a bow tie and handlebar moustache concocts a $16 multi-ingredient flaming cocktail with a drop of absinthe for me, without me becoming more of the show than the actual show.
Is it just my paranoia? Am I creating issues that aren’t there, or committing the cardinal sin of imagining veiled racism where it doesn’t exist? A funny thing happens when a person of colour mentions the possibility of racism to White people. They almost always say it’s all in your head. Turn on the gaslight. The fact that others have felt “the vibe” when they have been out, maybe lends a little more validity to my own experiences. I don’t know. James Baldwin once said, “to be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I don’t know that I find myself enraged, so much as confused. These things don’t manifest themselves in white hoods and burning crosses like the southern state Jim Crow era. In Canada, as a former British colony, we take a much more reserved (British) and unseen approach to our shame. As actor Daniel Kaluuya astutely observes in his W Magazine interview, this type of subtle racism though unseen, is still felt, and still very much sucks.
It is in the faces of the circling security suits as I write this essay downtown in a fabulous boutique hotel lounge, while I wonder what I could have done seated in front of a laptop and a glass of riesling-gewurztraminer to elicit so much attention. It’s in the modelesque hostess’ face at one of the city’s best restaurants this year (according to several respected food writers) who is a little too quick to mention the restaurant is booked before even asking me if I have a reservation. It’s in the looks of the other diners' faces as I pass by, trying to figure out what someone like me, is doing in a place like this? It’s in the sometimes lacklustre or absentminded service provided by waitstaff, perhaps because they believe Black people don’t tip. It’s in the way the bill is dropped in front of my date (or White friends) instead of me because I presume, there is some doubt that I can afford to pay for the meal.
It’s in the pressure for me to tip well even when the service could be better because I feel saddled with the responsibility to shatter this server's stereotype. It’s in the necessity of a hashtag like #DiningWhileBlack to allude to the unwarranted indignity of being made to feel out of place when your only difference is in the shade of your skin. It’s in the actions, words and eyes of all the well-meaning, unintentional microaggressions I endure as a Black patron in a White establishment on an otherwise celebratory night out that are, some will definitely say, all in my head.
There are of course those of my own ilk who will say, you should stick to Black businesses then. The assumption being of course, that I don’t (which is untrue), so I get what I deserve eating at places owned by others. Black restaurant owners have a harder time getting bank loans for their businesses, and landlords downtown typically don’t want to rent to them due to racially based bias, so the actual number of sit down “big night” establishments are fewer. Aside from the logistics, I have to ask these people when it became acceptable for you to not go somewhere because it’s owned by somebody non-Black, or because there aren’t many (if any) other Black people there? Boundaries are to be broken, not upheld, and I personally don’t like the idea of anybody being allowed to keep me out of a place by making me feel like I don’t belong there. It’s not just keeping you out of a place. It’s keeping you in your place. I don’t know about you, but my place is anywhere I damn well see fit.
Really though, all that aside…could you all just relax? Though you’ve swallowed Black culture whole, we have no intention of eating YOU.
Byron Armstrong is a freelance writer and lifelong Torontonian, raised in Jane-Finch and living downtown. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
This article originally appeared on medium.com.