EAT­ING OUT WHILE BLACK

Whether we ad­mit it or not, black peo­ple in the Mother City are of­ten dis­crim­i­nated against when they go out to eat. The sub­ject is a touchy one, with many whites ac­cus­ing blacks of play­ing the race card

CityPress - - Front Page - Sarita Ran­chod Ran­chod is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Un­der the Rainbow – Cre­ative Strate­gies for Pos­i­tive Change See wel­come and un­wel­come lists on page 3

Iwas de­lighted to see so many of my favourite restau­rants listed in Eat Out mag­a­zine’s Best Restau­rants in Cape Town: Where to Eat in 2015.

The in­tro­duc­tory sen­tence to the on­line edi­tion says: “It’s hard not to be smug about liv­ing in Cape Town.” Well, I live in Cape Town and do not feel smug about liv­ing here. Maybe the ar­ti­cle and the list were not meant for me, or for peo­ple like me.

While my part­ner and I are part of Cape Town’s mid­dle class, we also hap­pen to be black. This means that we, more of­ten than we like, find our­selves in oth­er­wise ex­clu­sively white spa­ces. There are of course no “whites only” signs on the doors of th­ese es­tab­lish­ments, but when we en­ter th­ese spa­ces, we of­ten find that ex­cept for the staff, we are the only black peo­ple there.

This hap­pens at restau­rants, at sem­i­nars, at func­tions, at work meet­ings. It hap­pens so of­ten that we have a punch line to this “joke”: “Oh dear, we’re the only whites here! Again!”

We say it a lot more than we’d like, and we don’t re­ally find it funny. But South Africa has a proud his­tory of us­ing hu­mour as a cop­ing mech­a­nism for our painful fault lines – and we are, after all, South African.

De­spite dif­fer­ent pro­gen­i­tors, and the last num­ber in our ID books firmly plac­ing us in dif­fer­ent apartheid “pop­u­la­tion reg­is­tra­tion groups”, we share a sim­i­lar shade of “medium” brown. We both have “straight” noses. One of us has straight hair, the other tight curly hair, worn in long dread­locks, so nav­i­gat­ing mid­dle class Cape Town is al­ways an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for us.

While the Where to Eat in 2015 list of Cape Town’s top restau­rants in­cludes sev­eral of our favourite restau­rants, it also in­cludes restau­rants we have tried to visit, but where we were made to feel in­vis­i­ble and could not be served. Many black peo­ple will know this in­cred­i­ble, mag­i­cal Cape Town in­vis­i­bil­ity trick. For those who don’t, it works like this: “We can’t see you be­cause we have made you in­vis­i­ble. We can’t serve you if you are in­vis­i­ble.”

In prac­tice, it means we can­not visit all of the restau­rants on the Eat Out list. We’ve tried, but if they can’t see us, they can’t serve us. After try­ing to get the staff or man­age­ment’s at­ten­tion, we ei­ther leave and find some­where else to eat, or try harder to get no­ticed (wav­ing hands in the air, get­ting up to ad­vise some­one, prefer­ably man­age­ment, that we’d like to be served, that we’ve been here 20, 30, 35 or 45 min­utes and have yet to suc­ceed in get­ting some­one’s at­ten­tion).

I am not at my best when hun­gry, so of­ten it’s bet­ter to try to get served where we are than to leave.

It’s the start of a new year, so I de­cided to put my hope­less­ness about South Africa and Cape Town’s race fu­ture aside, and thought I would do some­thing pos­i­tive. I de­cided to start a list of restau­rants in Cape Town that are “wel­com­ing to all” – where we are not ac­tively made in­vis­i­ble or ex­cluded; where we are not dis­crim­i­nated against for dar­ing to Eat Out While Black in Cape Town.

This list would be based on the ex­pe­ri­ences of two brown-pig­mented peo­ple, with a re­quest that oth­ers add to it based on their own ex­pe­ri­ences, ac­knowl­edg­ing that oth­ers may have vastly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences of the same es­tab­lish­ments.

Be­fore start­ing the list, it is im­por­tant to clar­ify that there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween restau­rants (and other es­tab­lish­ments) that “tol­er­ate” peo­ple of colour and those that “wel­come” us (in the same way that they may wel­come our paler pa­tron com­pa­tri­ots and pale non­com­pa­tri­ots).

Many Cape Town restau­rants tol­er­ate peo­ple of colour. This means we are al­lowed en­try, treated in­dif­fer­ently or in­hos­pitably (or as if we are be­ing done a huge favour by be­ing granted seat­ing rights at all) and treated vis­i­bly dif­fer­ently to all of the other (white) pa­trons in the restau­rant. It also means that the restau­rant re­serves the right to grudg­ingly seat us in the “black” sec­tion of the restau­rant – some­where hid­den away in the bow­els of the build­ing, close to the toi­lets or any other smelly or windy parts where we will not dis­turb the view. Sev­eral restau­rants, in­clud­ing many well-known chains, prac­tise this ap­proach ha­bit­u­ally, not only in Cape Town.

A few years back, we ar­ranged to meet a friend for sun­down­ers at a restau­rant in Blou­bergstrand with a fab­u­lous view of Ta­ble Moun­tain. Our friend is male, of darker-brown colour­ing than we are, and does not have one of those palat­able ac­cents that help to smooth our pas­sage through Cape Town. He had hardly stepped in the door of the restau­rant when he was blocked and told there was no work avail­able for him.

Of course there was no work avail­able for him there. Our friend is a nu­clear physi­cist. But he is a black man. And in Cape Town, that mat­ters. Sto­ries like this abound. We’ve all heard, seen and ex­pe­ri­enced too many of them.

I started my Wel­come List and de­cided to share it in two dif­fer­ent spa­ces on Face­book, ex­plain­ing why I was do­ing this, and ask­ing peo­ple to add their ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing made to feel wel­come in any par­tic­u­lar restau­rant to this list.

I first posted it on my per­sonal Face­book page and then on my neigh­bour­hood’s closed Face­book space. The re­sponses I re­ceived could not have been more dif­fer­ent.

In my per­sonal space, many peo­ple agreed about the ne­ces­sity and ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of cre­at­ing such a list, and recog­nised that we should spend our money in places where we were wel­come. Friends of all hues want to support restau­rants where we are all wel­comed and treated as equals. As hu­mans.

My neigh­bour­hood Face­book space, un­for­tu­nately, gives a bet­ter in­sight into the op­er­a­tions of un­ex­am­ined white­ness in South Africa in a way that my self-se­lected white friends can­not and do not.

My Wel­come List of restau­rants was roundly con­demned in the neigh­bour­hood space. I was told that it was 20 years after democ­racy, so why was I cre­at­ing an is­sue where there was no is­sue. I was told I should stop mak­ing things up. I was told I was be­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory and separatist by mak­ing such a list.

Many peo­ple who added con­tri­bu­tions to the list were white and based “wel­come-ness” on their own ex­pe­ri­ences. Oth­ers talked about lots of places hav­ing “mixed-group” ta­bles – ev­i­dence of a spe­cific venue’s non­ra­cial cre­den­tials. They added th­ese restau­rants to the list.

The black peo­ple who en­gaged in the neigh­bour­hood dis­cus­sion were shot down as soon as they tried to share their ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing thrown out of restau­rants, of hav­ing to give up a ta­ble to white pa­trons, of be­ing made to feel in­vis­i­ble, of be­ing told a restau­rant was full, only to have their white friends make a reser­va­tion. They were told off for “turn­ing ev­ery­thing into a race is­sue”. Their com­ments were termed as “non­sense” and their ex­pe­ri­ences con­demned as “play­ing the race card once again” – “yawn”.

We were all re­minded that “poor ser­vice” af­fects ev­ery­one, but only black peo­ple in­ter­pret poor ser­vice as racist. Ap­par­ently “poor ser­vice” is non­ra­cial. It’s what unites us. Seem­ingly, we are in a pos­tra­cial re­al­ity where white Capeto­ni­ans get to de­ter­mine where, what, when and how racism hap­pens, and to whom.

This is Cape Town. It is 2015. And yes, it has only been 20 years since the dawn of democ­racy, com­pared with the nearly 400 years of em­bed­ded race-based, master-slave re­la­tion­ships in the Cape. Dis­man­tling that prison house will clearly take much more than a short Wel­come List of eater­ies.

PHOTO: JACO MARAIS

NO DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION

Wang Thai in Mil­ner­ton, Cape Town, is wel­com­ing to all it’s cus­tomers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.