Standing While Brown: A white lady tried to get me to valet her car

by Lalo Alcaraz on February 16, 2012 in El Now

I was not dressed like this

Representing Pocho.com, I was a panelist along with a table full of young, savvy Latino digital media types as part of last night’s Digital LA Latino Content event.

Afterwards, I finished up networking and headed outside to leave. As I waited to get my car in front of the host restaurant in Beverly Hills, you’ll never guess what happened: A white lady tried to give me her car valet ticket. Twice.

You’ve heard this story a thousand times before; it’s a Latino cliché. Or is it a tradition?

Anglo person assumes brown person is a worker, there to serve them.

An old Chicano chestnut goes something like this:

I’m a Mexican-American, am married to a white woman, and I was mowing our lawn in front of our nice, big home. A white lady pulled up in a car and asked, “How much do you charge to mow a lawn?” My answer: Nothing. The lady of the house lets me sleep with her.

One of my own family members, a brown-skinned attorney, was approached demandingly by a white office worker in their high-rise parking garage. “Where’s my car? Where’s my car!?” she shouted at him. He answered, “Hey lady, I’m an attorney!” I guess she took that as a legal threat, because she ran off in fear.

I posted about my Beverly Hills incident on my Facebook page, unleashing a flood of responses of similar anecdotes, some biting and muy funny. This is just a small sampling:

  • I know that one
  • Where did you leave it?
  • Should’ve took it for a spin and left it on Pico Blvd for the less fortunate.
  • Jeez… It never ends.
  • There’s so much work still to be done! If I only had a dollar for each time I’ve heard, “You’re the principal?”
  • You should have check out her car and perhaps ‘upgraded’. At least she didn’t ask if you did yards on the side.
  • People are always asking me where to find things in stores…a little more subtle prejudice, at least.
  • Dude you should have taken the ticket and then let her try to explain to the valet why she doesn’t have one to get her car.
  • Happened to me once. B-Hills / Took the keys, waited for them to be seated, and asked if the car was my tip.
  • You should have driven it right into the nearest telephone pole.
  • If the lady had ever seen the way you drive Lalo, she never would have done that.

And perhaps my favorite:

  • White people will hand over their keys and their kids… but driver’s licenses or amnesty? not so much.

At our Latino digital content panel, we discussed how Latinos are ignored in mass media portrayals. I chimed in about how lame the forced “positive” PC portrayals end up being unrealistic and never entertaining,  and how we can address that by making our own media to set the record straight.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with working in a service job. We should all respect the working class more, and pay them a living wage. The problem is the assumption that if you do not have light skin and blonde hair, it must mean you are there to serve the people that do. On my FB page, Jose Torres summed it up perfectly:

Why do so many white folks think Latinos are their servants? Because too many of us are their servants. And that is the real issue not the slights we receive at restaurants, stores etc. I agree that these slights are f’ed up….. but they pale next to the lousy schools, high drop out rates and a variety of social problems facing the Latino community.

Give that man a new Mercedes!

So, back to the sidewalk last night. I was not dressed like a parking valet; I was wearing a suit coat and a nice shirt and carrying my own laptop bag. And I wasn’t standing behind the valet stand.

But that white lady was not getting served fast enough.

She just looked for the first available brown person. Of course I was asking for it, standing there, looking all Mexican. In front of a Mexican restaurant, no less!

Once I realized what was going on, I just stared at the lady and looked away. Two times! She finally stopped waving the ticket toward me after she realized her mistake. Not much would have been achieved had I yelled at her and made her feel stupid. She already was.

I waited for my car, wished her a good night (tipped the valet generously) and soon, instead of SWB (Standing While Brown), I was now DWB (Driving While Brown).

I made it home through treacherous Beverly Hills without further interruptions. This morning, after I finish posting this, I will go outside and mow my lawn.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

 

 Photo by Pulpolux !!!

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