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Racism Stories - Action and Accountability
How Sunny Slaughter Got Action After an Experience of Racism (and how would-be allies can help)
Towards the end of last year, I saw an enlightening LinkedIn post by Sunny Slaughter about an experience of racism she’d had. It’s very similar to some of the stories I’ve shared in Eating Out While Black and makes it clear that this kind of disrespect is far from an isolated experience. For those who saw the post originally, there’s an update at the end.
Here’s the original incident in Sunny’s own words:
“I took my young adults to dinner and finally to see Black Panther. We had dinner reservations at Founding Farmers Tysons. I wanted us to enjoy coming together to give thanks and "Just Be." But it was NOT the EXPERIENCE we had nor what I wanted for my three young adults.
I am not upset. I am angered. I am raged. I've been playing it back in my head over and over again. Doing what Black people often do. Trying to figure out what happened. What did WE get wrong? I retraced every step, from the joy we felt discussing the large purchase this weekend to our entry into the restaurant.
We were not inappropriately dressed. We were not loud or boisterous. We did not order alcohol; surprisingly, our dinner order was low-key, especially when I said get anything you want (burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries). Simple enough, or so I thought.
So how were we there for almost one hour in a relatively empty restaurant when we arrived and placed our order to it filling up and us watching other people get their food? Alex initially tried to handle it. I eventually asked for the check and the food to be boxed. By this time, it's one hour and fifteen minutes and what the waitress brings is cold, old, and unrecognizable. My request for management was explicit. "Tell them to come now and move quickly."
My introduction was my name, the issue, and the question. How are we still waiting for our order? Others came well behind us and were served, and did you notice that we were the only Black table? I told her to take charge of my bill and keep her food. She never apologized or said anything. Blank stare. She said, "give me a second." I told her to make it half a second because I needed to leave QUICKLY." Not because of the movie but because of the anger that I felt. The anger I still feel. I was not loud or irate, but definitely, my tone meant business.
If you read this and think, "Why does everything have to be about race?" You've never had an experience. You've never been called a ni**er as a young, innocent child. You've never had to explain to your children that you "WILL" have these experiences. You've never felt the disrespect, shame, and guilt of being unable to protect your children from these experiences, no matter their age. You've never known the stupidity of people saying, "I don't see color," which means you don't see ME. We are the sum of everything we are, and our experiences cannot be erased simply because others want to silence us.
I'm not okay. But I will be.
When racism and disrespect are your reality and experience, you must not get comfortable and normalize them with silence.”
Following the incident, Sunny was able to get the owner of the group to take some action. Here’s her update:
“I spoke with Dan Simons, Co-Owner of the Farmers Restaurant Group and Co-Founder of their flagship restaurant Founding Farmers. We had a pleasant call in which he expressed his concerns and, more importantly, his empathy for the experience the children and I had. He did not attempt to downplay or erase our experience and said he would be investigating the matter and if it's determined that race or racism played any role in what happened, he is not interested in training or educating, but he will be terminating anyone involved, as he has zero tolerance for it. He will also send me a note to share with the young adults.
I am still bruised, but I can move on because our experience was not erased, and I was heard. The goal was always for no one else--regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity to be wounded.”
What Happened Next
A few weeks later, I asked Sunny two questions. First, was there any further follow-up from the restaurant group? Here’s what she said:
“It seems like a lifetime since my initial post, as things keep happening, and time does not stand still. I communicated several times with Dan before we closed the door in 2022. The offer for my family to be his guest at any of the locations remains.
In addition to our conversations, he addressed the matter internally and asked if I was interested in learning more about the details to which I declined. Although most people think I would want to see the details, part of my work involves External Compliance and investigating clients regarding their internal policies, protocols, and processes.
After speaking with Dan, I realized rather quickly, and he pointed this out as well; what was deeply troubling for me was that I was not working that day. I was trying to be a mom, enjoying the company of her young adult children. I was caught off guard by it all, as if my experience—not the first—was somehow out of the body, and I was left feeling vulnerable.
I didn't want to see what, if anything, he uncovered because I would have been viewing it from a lens of work and not the experience I had, which was being a mom. You might not separate the two, but I have learned from experience that I am not going to exist in this world "ON," meaning working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and doing the work that I am, otherwise I would be crushed by it all. I am choosing to heal over hurt. Listening and hearing over blocking out and trying to navigate the murky waters of every situation. I said what must be said, did what must be done, and moved on to the next because there will always be a next.
Dan's last outreach included a quick note informing me that the manager on the night in question I addressed personally wanted to know if I might be open to having a conversation with her. There was no pressure, but she wanted to apologize. I quickly agreed, and we talked for more than an hour when she called. I learned more about her, she learned more about me, and we learned about one another. Imagine that. I will say about our conversation that I will return to her location when time permits so she can meet my young adults and hopefully spend additional time together.”
My second question was what action Sunny would find meaningful from allies in such a situation. Here’s what she said:
“What I would like for allies to do when they see something happening is not to ignore it. Take the time to intervene and speak up. Silence can sometimes be complicit to the things happening around us that make us comfortable or uncomfortable. People don't want to get involved. The nod and behind-closed-doors conversations will no longer cut it. Hate, Racism, and Bigotry are out in front and staring us down. It's time to stop backing down and stand up to it. Don't tell me you are with me and dismiss what I've said because you've never had an experience. If I said it happened, it happened. Even if it's not intentional, we need to call a thing a thing and deal with it to reduce the number of things that harm those constantly in survival mode.”
Thank you, Sunny.
Here’s a link to Sunny’s original post.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.