I'm drinking and eating and talking with a friend in a restaurant near the heart of Madrona. My companion is white; I'm black. He is broke; I'm not. When it's time to go, I request the damage from the server, who is a white male in his 50s. The server arrives with the bill, places it on the table, and departs. I withdraw my card from my purse (I call it Polonius), place it on the bill, and offer to settle the whole damn thing. My friend, of course, accepts the offer and thanks me. A moment later the server picks up the card, runs it, returns to our table, and hands the card and the receipt to my white friend. Everything becomes awkward all at once. But the server leaves without a second thought. Nothing has happened here that's unusual. He is done with this bit of business. Others need attending.
My embarrassed friend hands me my card and the receipt. I tip because not doing so would make the awkward situation even more awkward. I also tip because, in a sense, the waiter is not mad to assume that my white friend has all the money and I have none. This is the way things normally are in the United States. You will not find a statistic that shows anything but this: Black people are generally much poorer than white people.
The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.White households: $113, 149; black households: $5,677. As for single black women?
Among the most startling revelations in the wealth data is that while single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.What these facts make clear is that the white server was not foolish to assume that the card belonged to the white person at our table. The guess makes perfect sense in the context of this society. What is needed, then, is not more sensitivity from white servers (the Seattle solution), but real and hard change in the structure of an economic system that disproportionately benefits white people.
- The Card Is in My Purse, Polonius