The tale of three minorities in a bakery

The media would often have us to believe that people of color especially Black people like to play the race card and delight in chasing racism 24/7 when in many cases nothing could be further from the truth.

Today I was minding my own business when I saw an exchange that as the mother of a young man of color as well as being the sister and daughter of Black men, gave me pause as I sat and processed what I saw. So rather than stewing, I figured I would practice a little work avoidance and share this scene.

I am a creature of habit, which means Monday mornings after my 9am yoga class, I generally head over to the local bakery and grab a cup of coffee and a muffin. The only difference today was that before I went to the bakery, I stopped over at the local health food store to grab some cod liver oil, elderberry syrup and a chocolate bar and was promptly overcharged by almost $15. Just another rainy Monday.

So after procuring my supplements to stay in good health I go over to the local bakery which is owned by a woman of Asian descent, she is a trained pastry chef and nice enough. The owner and baker is one of those people who tends to know her trade, in this case pastries and is neither too friendly nor unfriendly. This town is small enough that while I can’t call her a friend, I have friends who are friends of hers.

Anyway when I walk in, there is one customer ahead of me, a young attractive woman also of Asian descent, the owner/baker is offering this customer samples of her newest creation, a chocolate-cherry torte that I actually bought a few days ago. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. Once the customer ahead of me is done, the owner takes my order. I get my coffee and muffin  then sit down to devour the muffin. But not before exchanging a few pleasantries with the other customer at the coffee station before she heads out.

I am mid-way through my cranberry muffin when I look up and see a young Black man enter. I immediately notice his shoulder length dreadlocks, I admit as a Black woman in a little town like this, I do notice other minorities and I doubt that I am the only one. That’s how I know that Willie Nelson lives in my area and he is a short Black guy!

All jokes aside, I did notice the customer and probably wouldn’t have paid him any  further attention if I had not noticed that owner’s demeanor immediately shifted, instead of her usual smile, her smile almost seemed to shift into a scowl and she appeared tense. The young man gave a warm hello and asked if she made a certain type of cake whose name I didn’t catch. Nothing in the young man’s demeanor made me nervous and trust me if he had made me nervous I probably would have hauled ass out.

What happened next is what really caught my attention, after repeating his request back to him, the owner proceeds to explain that it is a rather fancy cake and no, she doesn’t bake it. He then asked if she knew of any other bakeries in the area that might, but not before she asked him if he lived in the area. Apparently the young Black man’s lady friend lives in my town and he had heard of this cake and wanted to surprise his lady love. Well after giving what to me was way too many details, the bakery owner proceeds to tell him that he should probably go to Boston to find this cake. Like I said, I didn’t get the name of the cake so I have no idea how fancy it is, but it struck me as odd that a trained pastry chef couldn’t make the cake nor did she offer him any reasonable substitutes.

I did notice that by the end of the exchange the young man’s demeanor seemed less warm and open as he commented that the owner seemed knowledgeable about cakes and went slumping off. Now for many readers this story probably seems like a non-story but to those of us who have lived with the subtle and not so subtle ways in which racism and bigotry in the US can rear their ugly heads, you know that even so called simple exchanges like this are often rarely as simple as they seem.

In the end, maybe the bakery owner just had to pee really bad, maybe she really can’t bake this so-called fancy cake. However I know that just moments before, the owner had been both warm and welcoming to me and the other customer so to see her shift from a definitely not warm or welcoming stance took me by surprise.

Just another Monday in America.

7 thoughts on “The tale of three minorities in a bakery

  1. bummer that you didn’t get the name of the cake, that’s gotta be some fancy-ass pastry if he has to go all the way to Boston to get one!!! There’s not even a baker in Portland who could make it?

    I can see a baker hesitating to make a special-order cake that requires expensive ingredients she may not keep in stock, or is very time consuming to decorate… not only as a one-time order but to keep other customers from getting “ideas”. In the world of food, I’ve noticed some chefs love to be adventurous and some prefer to live in their safe little box with their safe menu of things they know will sell & cost little to produce. But again, BOSTON???

    And to me, the fact that she didn’t offer any alternatives is sketchy. Why not even try for his business, his *local* lady-friend’s business? Hrm. Have you ever been there with your son?

    1. I have been there with my son but again she “knows” me so I have never seen my son get any off treatment since I am right there with him. I was shocked when I heard her suggest Boston since Portland has a reputation nationally of being a foodie town and there are plenty of bakeries there.

      I feel like her response to him was so automatic and engrained that she probably didn’t see anything wrong with it. Which is hard to swallow on so many levels.

  2. arrrrggg. I’m the spiteful one who would’ve interrupted and insisted that the baker makes GREAT cakes and paint her the color of ass she drew herself out to be.

  3. Ur perception of the encounter rings “true” to my ears. If like so many who have had the first-hand, long-term life experiences of dealing with overt/covert racially insensitive behavior, you may have a “built-in antenna” which can pick up what others may not notice.

    1. Thank you. At this stage in my life I have seen this sort of thing so often that I guess I am not surprised other than the fact the baker is a minority herself. I doubt she even was aware of what she had done.

  4. I read your post yesterday and I can’t stop thinking about it. As a white mom of a gorgeous 13month old black boy – your post literally made me sick to my stomach. I know this will happen to him -and I know it’s my responsibility to help him understand how to manage these situations (and to expose him to others who can help him problem solve) – but I’m having a hard time getting out of my rageful “how can you do that to my baby?” and into a more constructive place. I want to raise a strong, confident black man who can move through the world without it beating him down. Am I crazy? What would you tell your son?

  5. One of the reasons Maine makes me sad is simply because I am aware of difference in a way I never was in Toronto. When I see people who are not white they stand out here. Back home the bus was just a mix of white, bown, black and everything in between. There was nothing to notice. It was just a blurr of people and I liked it that way.

    There is a distinction between acknowledging difference and reacting the way the bakery owner did. I hope my reactions never come off that way. I always want people just to be people wherever I am.

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