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Some of the racism separating Americans in Trump’s USA

August 16, 2017

This morning (August 16th) I was angered to read on Twitter how a group of African-Americans attending a retreat in Michigan, USA, found themselves suddenly segregated from white patrons in the retreat’s dining area by what looked like a hastily-erected wall of cubicle dividers:

“These white people really put a wall up to separate us cause they were “uncomfortable”. It’s 2017 and we still gotta deal with this smh.”

The August 13th Tweet, which included photos of the impromptu barrier seemed to be one more glimpse into the Pandora’s Box of bigotry and racism that Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President has opened up south of the border.

Twitter user Landon, the author of the Tweet, explained that he was part of a nonprofit group called Greening of Detroit that mentors urban youth. His group had paid $25,000 to take a group of kids camping for the weekend at the Kettunen Center, a lakefront retreat located in northern Michigan.

“I work with a nonprofit and we went on a camping trip and we’ve had to deal with these racist white people the whole weekend for no reason,” Landon explained to one of the many commenters to his shocking Tweet.

Making America @%†#! again

After civil rights activist Heather Heyer died Saturday at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—the victim of a car, allegedly driven into a crowd by a white nationalist—U.S. President Donald Trump refused at first to condemn white supremacists, choosing instead to blame both sides for the fatal violence at the rally, including the “violent alt-left”.

Trump’s intransigence toward blaming white supremacists in this instance—indeed, his willingness to defend them—is yet another reminder that Americans have a president who is worryingly soft on racial discrimination and bigotry, both in speech and in deed.

It should come as no surprise if the example of the U.S. President is giving fresh courage to white American racists and emboldening more and more of them to exercise their racism in public.

But to see a business—getting back to the Kettunen Center incident—tolerating such hateful displays did surprise me.

Overt racism may be fashionable among Trump’s followers but I would expect a U.S. business to keep such behaviour off of its premises, if for no other reason than to avoid lawsuits—discriminating against customers on the basis of skin colour is still unacceptable in the eyes of American law and Americans, as a rule, are very litigious people.

A case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t

So I emailed the Kettunen Center, to both voice my dismay at the racist behaviour of some of its white customers and to question the behaviour of the retreat itself, for apparently standing by and tolerating the intolerance.

The answer that I received from Chris Gentry, Director of the Kettunen Center, illustrates the difficulty of serving the general public in Trump’s polarized USA and shows how the old hospitality maxim “the customer is always right” can come out looking all wrong, despite a business’s best intentions.

Gentry promptly replied to my email, in order to clarify the facts of the August 13th event. He explaining that the idea to erect a barrier between members of Greening of Detroit and an intolerant white family group actually came from Kettunen staff after “racially motivated comments” were made by members of the family.

The suggestion of the partition, which the Greening group ultimately accepted, was clearly an attempt to mollify two equally important groups of paying customers.

As Gentry explained, such “soft-wall partitions are routinely used by the facility to provide a more private atmosphere to different groups using [the] shared dining space”. He also stated that “the Kettunen Center and its staff do not condone the actions of the private family group in attendance”.

Here is the full email reply from Chris Gentry, Director of the Kettunen Center:

“During the weekend of Aug. 11-13, the Kettunen Center hosted two different groups at their conference facilities: a private family and youth with an urban forestry program. Regrettably, it was reported to staff on Aug. 12 that a few members of the private family group made racially motivated comments to members of the youth group. After learning of the incident, Kettunen Center staff discussed options with the youth event coordinator for making the remainder of the group’s stay more comfortable. As an inclusive facility, the Kettunen Center works hard to provide positive environments for all groups utilizing its facilities and when conflicts occur, it is customary for staff to work with the event/group coordinators to find the best possible solutions. One of the options offered to the youth coordinator was to set up a soft-wall partition routinely used by the facility to provide a more private atmosphere to different groups using shared dining space. In conjunction with the coordinator, the partition was set-up on Aug. 13. As a facility committed to the principles of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination, the Kettunen Center and its staff do not condone the actions of the private family group in attendance”.

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