On Oct. 30, when thousands were gathered in Washington, D.C., for Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, Dori Maynard faced a moment of insanity. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, was thrown out of a Hampton Inn in the nation's capital for reasons that are still unexplained.
In a recent blog post, Maynard talked about the incident and attempted to understand the reasoning behind what happened. At one moment on that October morning, she was in the hotel lobby waiting for a colleague, and the next moment, she had a general manager escorting her out of the hotel because she was not a guest and, as he explained it, the hotel had to protect its guests.
Before the GM approached her, Maynard recounts in her blog, she had spoken to just one guest who was in town for the rally — "an older white guy wearing a T-shirt with the word 'eracism' emblazoned on the back." The two of them, she says, discussed the general mood in the nation, and afterward, she went back to her seat. That's when the manager appeared.
"This is in a hotel lobby, and hotel lobbies are for meeting people," Maynard said in an interview with The Root. "This is incomprehensible to me … and I'm really not a threat to society."
In fact, Maynard oversees the oldest organization that focuses on helping news-media companies pursue diversity in staffing, content and business operations. Her father, journalism pioneer Robert C. Maynard, and his wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, co-founded the institute in 1977. From 1983 to 1994, the power couple published the Pulitzer Prize-winning Oakland Tribune, the only general-market newspaper ever owned by African Americans. Some threat.
Maynard has reached out to the Hampton Inn, but so far she has received no response. Calls made by The Root to the hotel for comment were not returned. However, on Tuesday afternoon, someone at Hampton sent this note to Maynard through the comments section of the Huffington Post, where she has cross-posted her blog: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention, the hotel ownership will be reaching out to you offline directly."
Here, Maynard talks with The Root about how she is coming to terms with what happened, why she has not asked that the general manager be fired and what she would like to see occur in the resolution of this issue.
The Root: After all you have gone through, I noticed that you have not asked that the general manager be fired. Why not?
Dori Maynard: Because my initial reaction is that I spend a good portion of my life going around the country telling people that we need to spend time engaging in difficult conversations around charged issues, and I thought it was my obligation to try and follow through with that and have a conversation with him. Having said that, almost a week and a half ago, I faxed (and sent via FedEx) a letter asking to have a conversation, and I have received no response whatsoever. My office has verified that the FedEx was not only delivered but was signed for.
DM: I do want an explanation, and not only do I want an explanation, but I want to see the original incident report (written up by the general manager). I don't think that he should be in the position to do that to somebody else. I have no idea what happened, and I really would like to know what he thought he saw.
I keep replaying this in my head. The reason I'm blindsided, you know, we all walk into situations where we know we are being watched. That's just a fact of life. Not a good fact of life, but a fact of life. But there are times when you are on guard. But this is in a hotel lobby, and hotel lobbies are for meeting people. This is incomprehensible to me.
TR: What did you, and what should others, take from this moment?
DM: I have become incredibly concerned about the mood of the country. I have a 30-year-old brother who I'm just always on about being safe. I think we have entered a period where the acrimony and the tension is so palpable that you don't know what's going to happen next. I was surprised to be proved so right.
TR: It's quite ironic that this happened the same day as the Rally to Restore Sanity.
DM: Exactly. The guy I was talking to at the hotel was getting ready to go on the rally, and that's why he was proudly wearing his "eracism" shirt. At the time I looked at his shirt, I thought that this was showing me that maybe things are not as critical as I thought they were, and that there are people standing up against racism.
TR: But how insane did it become for you just after chatting with this hotel guest?
DM: It was insane, and it's deeply troubling. The fact that nobody has gotten back to me is also deeply troubling. The only way I can interpret that [is that the hotel is saying], "We think it's OK," and it's not OK. I talked to you earlier about it's in keeping of what we do, but also as I said, I have been increasingly concerned about the conversation within this country.
We keep saying that Washington has to have a more civil tone. I think each of us needs to have a more civil tone as well. We are all responsible. I was willing to do my share to sit down and talk with this man to find out [why he escorted me outside] and to make sure that steps were taken that nobody else would be treated this way, and what I have gotten is absolute dead silence. Nothing — and that is unacceptable.
TR: What does this say about where we are today in this so-called post-racial society?
DM: First of all, I think in two years we went from 'post-racial' to racially polarized. There's ample evidence that we are not post-racial. This is an opportunity for us to try to have frank and honest conversations about race, but I have not seen anybody who's trying to lead those conversations. And when you try to have the conversation, like Eric Holder, who stood up — you saw what happened to him.
Quite frankly, I saw his point. If you don't agree with him, or if we don't agree with each other, rather than deriding each other, it's really time to try to figure out why we all think the way we think. And just telling somebody that they are wrong all of the time is not going to actually change their mind or their opinion. We need to engage in honest dialogue, and we are not doing that on any front. And I think that has a potential to lead us further into a very bad place.
We really need to take a deep breath and just re-examine how we are treating each other.
Monée Fields-White is a Chicago-based writer who covers a wide array of topics, including business and economic news.