Racism

Jermaine Massey visited Portland, OR to attend a Travis Scott concert. On returning to his hotel, the Portland DoubleTree, he noticed his mother had called. He was concerned as it was very late on the East Coast where she lived. So he called her from the hotel lobby. 

During the call, he was approached by a security guard and asked if he was a guest at the hotel. Massey replied he was. The guard asked him his room number. Massey said he was on a phone call and couldn’t remember off the top of his head. At which point the guard (now immortally dubbed ‘Hotel Earl’) requested a manager call the police.

Jermaine Massey and “Hotel Earl”

The police came. And despite the fact he had a room key, Massey was required to retrieve his possessions and check-out. He was then escorted off the premises. Outside the police suggested he pursue the matter with the company to avoid being charged with trespass. Massey declined an offer to be taken to another hotel. He took a Lyft to the airport Sheraton, where he spent the night without incident.

Massey posted a series of videos outlining the event to Instagram, which went viral. Both DoubleTree and the hotel’s manager swore it was just a misunderstanding and discrimination wasn’t the company’s policy.

It’s all well and good that ‘officially’ this Hilton brand doesn’t discriminate. But that is cold comfort to a customer who suffered discrimination. It’s not enough that the employee handbook says one thing if the employees do another.

No doubt night security at a mid-level hotel doesn’t pay enough to attract top-notch people. But managers should be trained to a different standard. I see no evidence that this manager tried to figure out what was what. But instead just dropped a dime on a minority customer.

The story goes on to mention Massey’s clothes: “ a black hooded sweatshirt with bright lettering, jeans, and sneakers”. I bring this up because some defending the hotel have pushed the ‘thug-wear’ defense. Which takes the form of “if a black man has on ‘thug type’ clothing he must be guilty of something”.

The police also reported that Massey was “very angry and loud”. As well, the story notes that the hotel guard had told him to “calm down”.

Let’s assume that Massey was angry and loud. Can you blame him? He’s making a phone call from a remote part of the lobby, in a hotel where he has rented a room, minding his own business and suddenly he’s getting the third-degree from an employee.

The subtext is obvious. An ‘angry’ black man, dressed in ‘dubious’ clothing, must be trouble. Why? I’m sure hotels have to deal frequently with angry, drunk, middle-aged white men wearing suits. I cannot imagine a bunch of drunken salesmen on a junket is a quiet affair and yet those nights rarely end with the police summoned.

Hotel security has never bothered me for making a phone call. I wouldn’t even be harassed if I were wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers.

In Massey’s case, there is no suggestion that any other guest complained about his behavior. He wasn’t part of a group. He wasn’t brandishing a weapon. If some paranoid racist thought he bore watching, then why didn’t he just watch him until his phone call was over and he went peaceably to his room? 

When I was a kid in the 1970s, there was this feeling – at least among whites – that although there was a long way to go in civil rights and race relations at least the country was on the right path. Perhaps there has been some improvement in the professional class, but story after story shows that the road is long and the pace glacial.

And now racism at the top has given license to racism everywhere — perhaps most cuttingly affecting people who are just concerned about their mothers. Or swimming, barbecuing, or selling water.

America will not be great until everyone can make phone calls from the same spot I can – and is treated by the police, other authorities and all the officious ‘rule-writers’ out there as this middle-aged white guy is.

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