After helping Sudi move into his summer sublet in Berkeley, I went to spend the night with friends Jim and Sara in Oakland. Saturday morning found me on a brisk walk around Lake Merritt with Sara, who talked about her latest project, which is related to raising awareness about disability rights. With a partner who uses a wheelchair to get around, she has extensive firsthand experience with the prejudices and injustices that confront a disabled person on a daily basis. She described an evening dinner at a restaurant with Jim (who uses the wheelchair) and her mother, who is in her 80s and completely mentally competent. The waiter came to the table and made eye contact with Sara only, asking something like “Do you know what these folks want to order.” I don’t remember exactly what it was the waiter said or exactly how it went down, but, as Sara described it, the way it was phrased, it was obvious that the waiter assumed that the guy in the wheelchair and the old lady lacked the mental capacity to decide or communicate what they wanted to eat!
I told Sara that it reminded me of the previous week when we were at Akili’s graduation and our family went out to eat along with Akili’s girlfriend Tina and her parents. It was our son who had graduated and we were treating everyone. But when the waiter brought the bill, he handed it directly to Tina’s father (who is white). I took it from him and passed it over to Ron, my Black husband, who was paying for the meal. I confess the significance of the scenario did not dawn on me until later when Ron mentioned that the waiter’s assumption made him angry (even though he didn’t say anything to the waiter). Neither one of these waiters set out to insult or devalue anyone. It’s just a case of unlearning prejudicial assumptions. An ongoing process for all of us. The conversation reminded me to remain vigilant to my own assumptions and to continue to ask and learn, remaining open to the fact that my worldview is not the right one but one of many and that we are still learning from each other every day how to be more human.