Monday, July 1, 2013

Discrimination Affects More Than The Intended Target And Sometimes Backfires

The following story is vague on certain details. This is intentional.

When I joined my local atheist group, they had a regularly scheduled dinner at the same place once a month.  For those regularly scheduled dinners, we nearly always had the same waitress.  She once stated that she wasn't atheist, but only because it came up in a conversation.  She never attempted to, in any way, tell us we were wrong.  She was friendly and good at her job, never even writing any orders down.  She made the occasional mistake, but far less than you'd expect for a group that large, (ranging from 20 to 60 people) and less than someone who did write orders down.

The service was sometimes slow, but that was only when our regular waitress was not there or she was not receiving enough help from her coworkers.  We never really knew the cause of this until we went there outside of our regular dinner there, on a Sunday evening last August.

We had just wrapped up the Midwest Freethought Conference (now known as Apostacon[1]).  We were hungry and had some time before PZ Myers[2] had to be to the airport.  A few of the volunteers, along with Jerry DeWitt[3] (who had driven from Louisiana) and PZ, went to our regular place for some dinner.

That day, our service was absolutely terrible.  It took nearly half an hour to even get a waitress to take our orders.  Once that was finally accomplished, the waitress we had was surly the entire time.  Then it took a long time to get our checks, which she hadn't split for the roughly 10 of us there.  When we asked for them to be split, she said their computers could not do it.  As regulars to this place, we knew that wasn't true.

When our regular waitress learned of this, she let us know that some of the staff there had refused to serve the atheists.  Learning this explained so much about our service at this restaurant, especially for that Sunday.  It was to our regular waitress's benefit, as she thoroughly liked us as customers and had specifically requested to work the nights we were there.  I don't blame her.  We're fun people and we tip well.

A few months ago, she left that job, which left us without our regular waitress.  This month, that meant the new girl drew the short straw from the staff, many of whom had already refused to serve us.  A young woman, new to waitressing, got the group of more than 30 people.  She had some help bringing food out when it was ready, but it was soon clear that it was not enough.

She was feeling overwhelmed, and it was apparent that it was because of circumstances outside of her control.  It wasn't until later that we confirmed there had been disagreement on who had to serve us, specifically because of what kind of group we were.  After all that time, they still had a problem with us.

Our young waitress had begun the night expecting to have a bad night because of her atheist customers, because of public perception about atheists[4] and the general perception of atheists among the staff.  I don't blame her for having this expectation.

We're vilified[5] as regular practice by governors and former Presidential candidates.  We're called evil[6] on a regular basis.  As unfortunate as the truth often is, her fear of us was to be expected.

While she spent most of the night on the verge of tears, it wasn't for the reasons she was expecting to have caused her grief that night.  She had never dealt with a large group before and she was getting very little help from her coworkers, despite our party amounting to at least half the people there that night.

Later that night, when the most of our crowd had gone, she had the chance to relax.  She had the chance to tell us how we nothing like she had expected.  Of course we weren't.  We're awesome.  We tip well, something for which she now has evidence.  We're nice, something she has experienced first hand.  Something which she might tell people the next time she hears someone bad mouth atheists.

And as an added bonus, she now knows that the next time we're her customers, she's likely to have a good night.  She'll be around good people, who are nice to her.  And she'll definitely have a better night of tips than any other waitress in the place.

Atheist activism isn't only about protecting the Separation of Church state by challenging Ten Commandments monuments on public property or fighting Creationism being taught in our schools.  It's not just counter protesting rallies by the so-called "Pro-Life" crowd.

Sometimes all it takes being open about being an atheist around a believer.  Sometimes all it takes is being nice to your waitress, which you should be doing anyway.  Sometimes it just takes being yourself[7].


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