I don’t want to be that person, but I’m going to be. I frequently spend time at a nearby cafe, as it offers a good cup of joe, and friendly staff*. It also happens to have wifi, which when it works, is a great way to spend a few hours outside of my home while getting work done. Overall, this is a great means of productivity. The problem is, around lunch time, a change takes place in the clientele that also frequents this spot, and with it a drastic change in attitude. It basically goes from younger professionals or young families from both near and far, to a rather... white... crowd - and an older one at that. I have nothing against older folks, and for the most part white people, but there’s a certain variety, (*cough* United Statesians *cough*) that fills what I call my white-people tolerance much more quickly than others. I’m not saying all people from the United States have this effect on me, but in this context, it almost always is someone from said country. To expand on this, let me share my most recent encounter with you...
So, I’m sitting quietly, typing away, working on developing a work plan for the next two years of my work here in Uganda. In the booth behind me, I hear it starting. I begin to tense up. The cringe begins to surface all over my body. An “American” woman is going through the menu, and asks the staff member patiently waiting to take her order if the pasta dish on offer contains flour. When he shows a bit of uncertainty, she begins to berate him by asking the question again - several times, actually - sssllloooowwwwlllyyyyy and LOUDLY for all to hear, because apparently this individual is not understanding the question, or is stupid, so she must dumb it down for him (Note: that was sarcasm). The fact of the matter is, it was obvious that she already knew the answer, so this process was a pointless exercise, which not only embarrassed the young chap just trying to do his job, but this customer, as well. But she seemed oblivious to that... especially since, as he walks away to go find out the answer to her question, she makes a snide comment and laughed at him.
You would be amazed at the things I have overheard sitting in my same booth week after week. In fact most times, even if I’m not finished all that I had to get done for the day, I abruptly pack up and leave, informing the staff who are concerned they’ve done something wrong, that it’s not them, it’s them**. But, it’s almost nauseating at times to overhear these things - ignorant, demeaning things. I’m certainly not perfect, but when it comes to asking some of these personal or inaccurate questions, I try to make sure I ask someone I know a little better than an innocent wait staff member in an establishment I’ve just walked into for the first time! This attitude, of I’m the intelligent Westerner, and you’re just the uneducated African stems from a long line of colonial history, and inherent racism that is perpetuated over and over by those who come to this continent to “save” it, or its people!
So, to the lady sitting behind me - do you know how ignorant you sound? Do you know how incorrect you are for treating that young man the way you have? Or, perhaps more importantly, do you feel better about yourself now?
-the Orange Canadian
*I come frequently enough that when I enter, the staff pretty much go out of their way to greet me, either with a hug or a high-five... it’s pretty awesome!
**Actually, I get quite a kick out of their reaction when I tell them I’ve reached my white people tolerance for the day, because they all kind of look at each other as if trying to decide who will tell me that I, too, am white!