Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been working mainly from home and returned to the office only later in the pandemic stages. I now only go in once or twice a week. Each day I go to the office, I always try my best to bring lunch from home, but sometimes I’m too lazy to prepare lunch or want to treat myself.

On one of the days I went to the office, I forgot my lunch, so I had to buy food. I went to a nearby diner and ordered food. The diner is less than a minute’s walk from my office, so I usually order and go back to the office to wait for my food to get ready – but this time, I decided to sit and wait for my food there.

There was a white man sitting behind me. We were a few tables away from the counter. His food and mine got ready at around the same time. When his food was put in the foam takeaway plate, the waitress took it to him, and he left. There I was, waiting for my food. When my food was packed, the lady took the plate, put it on the counter and snapped her fingers, signalling me, and left the takeaway on top of the counter. I went and took my food and left. As I walked out, I realised I had been treated differently. I was confused; was she busy and couldn’t bring the plate to me? No, the white gentleman and I were the only people at the diner at the time. I felt a bit mad.

I paid for a service, and so did the white person, and why did she go above and beyond for him and not me? Then it dawned me, “You’re black.” I didn’t think I was right. I wanted to be wrong. I then talked to a colleague of mine who happens to be black too, and she assured me I wasn’t imagining things. She has also felt racist undertones in the diner. She has seen the racism. In her words: “ The first time I went there, there was a white person in front of me, and the lady who was serving them was talkative, laughing and quite helpful to him as a customer. Soon as I got there, there was no smile, no chat. I didn’t take it to heart that time because these things happen right?! But the next time I went, the same thing happened, and the third time too. Every time I was there, my imposter syndrome would get triggered because I could feel something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Even at this moment, I can’t say I have experienced racism there, but I think there was a lot of microaggression; but those are always hard to identify unless you are black and understand the social cues of how things work for us.”

Before this I had heard stories of people getting bad service and watching white people get better treatment/service in front of them – from hotels to restaurants to tellers. I didn’t want to be part of that pool; I didn’t want to be always triggered by that whenever I think of buying lunch. Yet racism in South Africa is deeply rooted, and much more than that single incident for me. We are denied opportunity, not allowed in spaces because of our race, and to now witness it even in such benign environments is a big trigger.

I have vowed not to go back to that diner. I will not be an accomplice to my disrespect. I also know my blackness is not a weakness. I am a child of the Sun; my melanin is my connection to all things light. I will stand and shine in my blackness.


Tell us: Has what happened to the author ever happened to you? How did it make you feel? Did you confront the other person?

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