Let’s say you arrive at your favorite restaurant for a meal as soon as the doors open. You speak with the seating hostess and ask how long is the wait? She tells you there’s no wait and asks how many in your party. You respond one. (Roll with me on this, I hate eating alone in a restaurant, too.) She tells you to have a seat, you’re next. You sit down on a nearby chair.
A minute later, you can’t help but notice that a friend arrives at the hostess stand and the same scene as yours plays out — how long’s the wait, no wait, how many in your party, one — until the seating hostess says, right this way, and escorts the person to a table for one.
You don’t jump to conclusions. The place has just opened and there’s plenty of tables, so you’re going to give the seating hostess the benefit of the doubt and wait your turn.
Three minutes pass. You’re waiting for that table of one. And a coworker arrives, requests a table for one, and is seated immediately.
It happens a third time. Someone you know from somewhere else arrives and is seated immediately.
And at this point you’re up in the seating hostess’s face wanting to know what the heck is going on. She has no clue as to what you’re talking about, but says she can seat you in just a minute.
You have a seat and the seating hostess calls you up and escorts you to a cocktail table in the bar; not a two- or four-top, six-top round, or even a booth, but a wobbly cocktail table. Without a chair. You stay because all you want is a meal. Somewhere between the waitstaff and the kitchen, both your food and drink orders are screwed up, and to top it all off the flatware’s dirty. It’s the dining experience from hell.
Once the food and drink orders are corrected, you down your food, and the bill arrives. You find that there’s a surcharge for the cocktail table. You pay the bill and leave. You just want to get out of there.
On your way out, you bump into one of the diners who breezed in before you. You both talk about your dining experience. When you begin to tell them how several diners were allowed to cut the line before you, they respond by saying—
I didn’t have a problem at all and I didn’t ask them to let me cut in front of you.
They proceed to tell you that their chair was much too soft for their liking, but the complimentary dessert was delicious. It takes everything to keep your head from exploding because it’s obvious they’re more interested in sharing about their dining experience than hearing about yours.
Sensing your bridled frustration, the buttinsky launches into how hard he/she had to work to be able to pay for the lunch. You realize the conversation isn’t going to be about your mutual dining experience, your individual dining experience, or even the source of your frustration — the fact that people cut the line ahead of you and it’s acceptable behavior for that restaurant.
You leave in abject disgust.
The next day, you’re at the grocery store. You’re next in line to check out with the cashier and someone cuts in front of you. To make things worse, this buttinsky is indifferent to the fact that you were there first. The cashier even rings them up as if their behavior is perfectly normal. You see they have one item, and you’re in a good mood (maybe), so you let the transgression slide. And as soon they’re done, it happens again. You call the person on their behavior and they respond, what’s the problem? I’m making a purchase.
End of scene.
Over the next few days, you realize that people are cutting in front of you everywhere. At the ATM, the toll plaza, the movie theater, the queue line for the restroom. And when you try to explain what’s happened to you, some people politely listen, nod their head, and cut in front of you.
Other times when you tell other people about your experience, they jump right in and tell you all about the rigors they went through to get to the place where they could cut in front of you. Or you’re subjected to yarns about the trials they endured after they cut in front of you. But everyone agrees, they’re not at fault for being able to cut in front of you. Very few people see a problem with butting in line at all.
I imagine you’d grow weary of having to explain your situation to the buttinskies. Sometimes you might feel up to sharing what it’s like to have others cut in front of and other times you figure why bother? You’re not there to teach them. The buttinskies should know better. They should realize that they’re regularly breaking with impunity the understood social contract of waiting one’s turn.
My guess is you’d also have no patience for defensive buttinsky lines like, I’m not inviting others to cut in front of you. Participating in the process is perpetuating the process. It doesn’t matter if your manners are on point or if you’re an overt douchebag when cutting the line. You’re still breaking the understood social contract of waiting in line.
There’s a simple principle at work here—
participating in and reaping the benefits of social injustice and choosing to remain silent about the practice merely perpetuates the injustice.
If you can even remotely relate to the indignity people regularly butting in front of you in line, you now have a better understanding of how we people of color might feel about being marginalized on a daily basis. Systemic racism does not dole out passes to people of color so that we might occasionally cut the line. People of color are more wont to receive the wobbly cocktail table with no chair (substandard goods or services) with a surcharge (higher interest rates, etc.) than whites. What we want and demand is equal treatment under the law.
So what are “you” supposed to do about it?
In the examples above, one could say, excuse me, but that person was in line before me. In the real world, you can leverage your privilege in an effort to level the playing field and speak out against racist behavior, be it an individual instance or systemic. It’s past time to take a stand. No cuts. No butts. No coconuts. There’s a lot of people who’ve been waiting in line a long time waiting for a seat at a table in restaurant with more than enough room for everyone.
Love one another.