On Monday I was in New York to sit on a panel for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission during the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference.
Since the conference was in New York, I woke up early to head to The Root’s main office to work. The day before, as I checked into my hotel, located in touristy Times Square, I noticed that I was one of the few black faces in the lobby, but I wasn’t bothered because ... well ... I’m black. I’m often the only black face in a lot of different spaces. You get used to it.
Anyway, when I exited the hotel lobby to take the train to work, it was raining, so I was wearing a hoodie, which just happened to have the phrase “BlackAF” emblazoned on it. I made it half a block through the torrential downpour before I said, “Fuck this. I’m catching an Uber.”
I turned around and walked back into the hotel lobby to wait for my Uber (which was really a Juno, which is kinda like Lyft, which is basically a bootleg Uber). As I walked into the door drenched, I saw a female hotel employee in the lobby noticing me. How did I notice her? Well, did I happen to mention that I’m black?
This woman, who just happened to be white, walked up to me and asked if she could help me. “No,” I dismissively responded while looking at my phone. “I’m just waiting for my Uber.”
“Our lobby is for hotel guests,” she said. “You can’t just stand here.”
“I’m actually staying here,” I replied.
To be fair, none of this was necessarily racist or out of place. I figured that she saw me enter the lobby and figured I was a random person trying to escape the rain. I hadn’t heard any stories about the plague of crafty Negroes sneaking into hotel common areas disturbing paying customers by just standing around, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
But instead of accepting my obviously fictional alibi, she asked to see my room key. Still working on summoning my getaway car, I complied by reaching into my pocket, pulling it out, showing it to her and then putting it back into my jeans.
“I need to scan it,” she said with the opposite of a smile.
“Nah. You don’t need to scan it,” I replied, staring into her eyes with my best black-man jailhouse gaze.
By then, the black concierge had spotted us standing there, so he walked over and said to her: “I handled his luggage yesterday. He’s staying here.”
Cruella de Vil didn’t even acknowledge him. Instead she looked directly at me: “I need to swipe your key card, sir.”
My Uber-Juno was now one minute away. “No thank you,” I said as I walked out of the hotel and headed to work, leaving her standing there.
Being black in America is fraught with peril.
America’s relationship with black skin engenders a prejudice that not only manifests itself in white people who often see us as prowling beasts, but also has the historical precedence of whiteness that fosters an innate sense of paranoia in black people.
I can’t say definitively whether the empress of hotel lobbies singled me out because I was a black man in a black hoodie surrounded by nonblack people. What I do know is that I felt like I was being targeted because of the color of my skin.
Despite what you may think, I am an optimist at heart. I hope that woman was simply doing her job. I can contort my internal logic into giving her the benefit of the doubt, but if there were a way for me to find out this particular location’s racism rating, I might not have been so offended.
There should be an app for that.
I’m calling on some of our best and brightest black researchers to develop a Yelp-like software application so that we can rate white people. Maybe Shuri could fly in from Wakanda and provide the tech. I know it all sounds kind of racist, but hear me out.
This is for your protection, white people.
Instead of being lumped in with all the other purveyors of white supremacy, you can distinguish yourself from the horde of Trumpelstiltskins by getting positive reviews on Wypipo Yelp. (During the development stage, I’m going to refer to the program as “Welp,” but I’m open to suggestions.)
This app would allow businesses and individuals on both sides to avoid being unfairly treated suspiciously when they might be well-intentioned.
Let’s say you are a black man going to meet a business associate at a public location. Our proprietary technology could scan the barista barcodes at your nearest Starbucks and alert you that one of the employees might possibly be perturbed by the presence of idling Negroes. It might even monitor the local police channels to see if Amber called the cops. (I was going to call this feature the “Amber alert,” but I don’t want to cause confusion.)
Furthermore, corporations wouldn’t lose an entire day’s revenue when they were forced to shut down for 24 hours for a full day of Starbucks racial-bias training. (I have a lot of questions about this: Do the black employees get an excused absence? After the trainer says, “Don’t be racist, you idiot,” what do they do with the rest of the time? Are there grades? Some white people don’t test well.)
When approaching a checkout line in the local supermarket, Welp would inform you that Becky the cashier might put your change on the counter because she’s not too fond of touching African-American palms for fear that she might get infected with Salmonigga poisoning.
This proposed proprietary technology would also have a business rating on it, as well, for places like LA Fitness’ Secaucus, N.J., franchise or the entire H&M chain. Instead of rating outlets with stars, Welp would give them a numerical grade to post on their entryway like a health-inspection sticker. While I’m still working out the details, here is the proposed rating system:
This is the highest level of Welp scores, but they are purely theoretical. No white person would have this high a score. Maybe someone like Rachel Maddow, Greg Popovich or the company that makes Kool-Aid could get an 89.5 and we could discuss whether we’d be willing to round their scores up. But let’s not get bogged down in details.
These are the best white people. I’d be willing to award Alex Trebek and Woody Harrelson solid 84s based purely on my perception of them. I also feel like Waffle House could earn this grade for its work in the field of hash browns alone. We could consider a posthumous grade for Teena Marie, but again ... details.
Most white people would fall into this category. They don’t necessarily hate black people, but they usually have some inherent prejudice. Someone like Anderson Cooper could earn a high C, while Bill Burr or a business like McDonald’s would rank in the 76th percentile. Bill Burr is married to a black woman and knows about lotion, but he’s also from Boston.
And while I know that McDonald’s celebrates black history 365, I feel like the McRib is kind of racist. Also, I don’t like how David the manager snatched that college-acceptance letter out of Sebastian’s hand and announced it to the whole crew in that commercial.
But maybe that’s just me.
This grade is for white people who are kinda racist but don’t consider themselves as such. They would never say the n-word in mixed company, but they wouldn’t chastise anyone who said it in front of them. A large number of seasonless Americans fall into this category, including Paul Ryan, white women who work at nonprofits and anyone who believes in reverse racism. Businesses include Cracker Barrel and your church. Yes, yours.
While this grade may seem harsh, these people still have some redemptive qualities. If they work hard and really focus, they might be able to bring their grades up to a C minus. Sadly, many of them are handicapped by a widespread learning disability found only in white people:
They “don’t see color.”
This category isn’t just for virulent supremacists. All kinds of people and companies fall under this heading, including Donald Trump, SheaMoisture, people who wonder why “everything has to be about race,” Michael Rapaport, the NFL, people who love the Confederate flag, Abercrombie & Fitch, Kid Rock, the Republican Party, Rachel Dolezal, the Democratic Party, people who put sugar in grits, the National Rifle Association, Post Malone, police officers, Tomi Lahren, and Fox News as a crew, staff and record label.
If you receive a low Welp rating, please don’t think you are being profiled. In America, there’s always the opportunity to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something out of yourself. If the white community focused on education and family instead of making themselves victims, they could probably get much higher scores. Welp is not about vilifying white people. Our software is about making the country safe for everyone.
To be fair, there’s also an app that allows white people to navigate the world without having to worry about hate and prejudice.
It’s called “being white.”
This idea and all variations thereof are the sole properties of Michael Harriot. Anyone who tries to steal them will be contacted by my attorney and The Root’s resident Suge Knight, Yesha Callahan.