Sunday, April 03, 2005

Why do black folks like to protest?

Mary Mitchell starts this column with this paragraph...

Catherine Smith, 15, is a high-achieving sophomore at Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park whom some are comparing to Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon, because Smith refused to give up her seat in a McDonald's restaurant. I wouldn't go that far.

Intesting, except that she was asked to leave a section that were reserved for adults. Somehow this warrented a protest of 100 people on Thursday. They protested against discrimation against the youth. A divinity student from the University of Chicago had something to say at this protest...

"We are here today because we want an apology right now," roared Paul Robeson Ford, a ministry student at the University of Chicago Divinity School, to the crowd gathered just outside of McDonald's parking lot. "We want an apology to Catherine Smith. We want an apology to the students of Kenwood. We want an apology to the youth of this community."

Ms. Smith has family working at the University of Chicago. One of them, is actually a professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell for the University's Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. She had something to say...

"What we will absolutely not allow is for someone to make policies based on the identity of a customer,"

Now at this point, and this is why I love Mary Mitchell. She doesn't look at this through a simple and narrow viewpoint, she looks at it from the point of common sense. This is what she says next...

I understand her point of view. Still, it's disappointing that no one was willing to acknowledge why Travis would have such a policy in the first place.

Or why some store owners will only allow two students in their stores at a time. Or why some people won't get on a bus when school is letting out. We all know that high school students can be just that unruly.


Smith and her friends may be respectful, but most adults would rather use the drive-through than sit in a dining room filled with a crowd of teenagers in a fast-food restaurant when the teens are not being supervised by a parent or an adult.

Travis claimed she came up with the "reserved student seating area" because of "repeated customer complaints about unruly behavior."

Then I really liked the concluding paragraphs...

Instead of hiding behind public relations people on Friday, she should have spoken out about the unacceptable behavior that led to the policy. Maybe then both sides would have been able to bring attention to the real problem.

Unfortunately, Smith's passionate demonstration of youth power was a missed opportunity.

It would have been an excellent way to put her peers in check.

It's easy to point the fingers at what is the issue on the surface, but there was a reason for this policy. If Ms. Smith had understood that, perhaps she could have been a leader or made an example of herself to put a curb to this perceived issue. The owner could have explained herself better as well. She could have mentioned why she had her policy in place. Perhaps if would have been better than having and embarrasing protest.

1 comment:

The Peter Files Blog of Comedy said...

I used to live about two blocks away from there and I have several comments to make as a non African-American.

First of all, to put this issue in the context of race is missing the point. This is a legitimate youth issue. Teens ARE routinely classed together and treated poorly because of a few bad acting individuals and by and large store owners punish large numbers of teens for the actions of a very few teens and that strikes the ones that don't cause trouble as blatently unfair, because it is.

But it is also true, that with a school the size of Kenwood, there are so many kids that there can be a lot of rowdy kids, so what's a fast food owner going to do on the slim profit margin they are operating on?

Yet rules like this are not just posted in stores in African-American neighborhoods. There has been a two kids at one time only sign outside the White Hen Pantry in Beverly since the 1970's and while there are a few faces of other colors mixed in, nearly all the faces over the years in the long lines on weekend nights waiting to get their pop and bubble yum have been white. Fair?

Well, its kept the shoplifting down. And the sense of chaos in the store.

And let's face it, that's what owners of these stores fear most. The sense that things will get out of control in their stores and so they try to limit the size of the student population in the store to make sure that moods do not escalate into something that they cannot handle.

Even a small food fight takes time to clean up. Time is money. A broken window means a raising of insurance rates, etc. We won't go into worse possibilities.

That being said, there are certain African-Americans who like to grandstand and grab the spotlight. Sure. There are a lot of white people who like to do that too, can you say Paris Hilton?

Why does someone bring up Rosa Parks in a situation like this? Because it works! It gets press attention. It gets people to think about the issues. Hey, don't go complaing now if our society did so little to help African-Americans over the last 300 years that they had to become really, really, really good at getting their point across to get even the most basic civil rights, if they keep using those skills once they have brought them up to the point of the art form.

Yeah, the British really regretted kicking the Irish's rear ends for all those years too. What did it get them? Generations of incredibly savvy, politically motivated, determined, educated Irishmen who were determined to get their country back and they had nothing to lose in the process.

It's not about color. It never was.

It has always been about justice.


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