Black History Month
We Don’t Allow Your Kind Through the Front Door
While in Paris for a multi-million-dollar negotiation, I experienced an ugly case of racist mistaken identity
“Education is important because, first of all people need to know that discrimination still exists. It is still real in the workplace, and we should not take that for granted.” -Alexis Herman
I was a six-figure C-suite executive in France to negotiate a deal worth $231 million. After three long days, it became apparent that we would reach a common ground to allow both parties to declare victory to their Boards of Directors and move on. We could relax a bit. I spoke to their team leader, and together, we cut the fourth day short at lunch. Our team would leave late the next day to return to the US.
Our hosts invited us to dinner at a very exclusive black-tie Paris restaurant. Being Parisians, they wanted to show us a perfect time. I wore a dress that I brought after I saw it on Whitney Houston. It was a gorgeous black velvet number that left my back and shoulders out. Beautiful and classy. I took time with my make-up, put on my expensive perfume and wore my red bottom black shoes. I believed I looked like the executive boss I was. Our hosts had sent a limo to pick us up. As the leader, I had requested to leave earlier than the rest of the team as I wanted a chance to talk to their leader. Together, we could toast to our team’s success. It would take less than five minutes for us to plan a joint toast.
The gentleman that had helped me from the limo was waving at the doorman who asked me to step over to the side. “I was a stunning woman. Didn’t I want to enter discreetly from the side so as not to attract so much attention? Who was I meeting?” Duh, no. I was walking in the front or not at all. What in the world was happening here?
A Mistake at The Front Door
When I arrived at the dinner, the restaurant would not allow me in the front door. It turned out that they had a no prostitutes at the front door policy. What could I, well dressed Black woman, be but a high-class prostitute come to meet a client? There was no big scene when I was not allowed in…instead, they had asked me to step over to the side as I approached the entry door. The gentleman that had helped me from the limo was waving at the doorman who asked me to step over to the side. “I was a stunning woman. Didn’t I want to enter discreetly from the side so as not to attract so much attention? Who was I meeting?” Duh, no. I was walking in the front or not at all. What in the world was happening here?
The doormen offered to call the limo for me to leave if I would not follow the rules. Instead, I called my hosts to let them know my predicament. I knew it was a difficult situation when two of the other Parisians showed up at the front door. They kept glancing over at me to see how I was doing. I was standing in my heels, watching them with curious eyes. I knew it was humiliating for them when one of them turned a bright red color while speaking with the doormen. That was when I walked over to join the conversation.
Nope, I’m Not A Ho
My hosts tried to explain that the doormen thought I was a different kind. “What kind would that be?” I asked. “Because I’m American, because I’m Black, because I’m a woman, what?” he explained that, because of all the above, the doormen believed I was a ho, not the gardening tool. Ho’s went through the side door to private rooms to eat with their clients. Prostitutes did not boldly walk through the main restaurant. The Frenchmen were trying to clear up the misconception before the rest of my team arrived. I didn’t think my team would be as controlled as I was once they arrived. Being a Black American; I’m used to racist behavior from random White people at the most unexpected times and places.
After many apologies, I was allowed to walk in the restaurant’s front door like everyone else. It ended up worse than the doormen thought because I walked into the restaurant head high, a big smile with a rich White man on each arm, the opposite of discreet. The rest of the night, I behaved as if the ugliness had never happened, congratulating our teams, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the most delicious food I had ever eaten.
The next day I used their embarrassment over the dreadful treatment I received at the restaurant to leverage the business deal in our direction. I told my team about the incident once we were back in the office. I used the crazy dinner as a training activity about how wrong it could have gone if I had lost my cool. More than any other, this incident made my team see that other people in the world were not as privileged as us and that racist practices existed everywhere. Racism is an international problem with anyone who is not a member of the majority race, ethnic group, religion, language… etc.
There was a change in my team in the way they interacted with people. As a team, we discussed how we would treat guests from other counties when they came to America; brainstorming what kind of problems non-Americans might encounter to avoid any incident like what happened to me. We became a team dedicated to understanding and making our customers happy no matter their race, creed, or color. And that was an excellent thing for all of our careers.