We recently took a family vacation to Baltimore, Maryland. We stayed in a hotel close to the Baltimore Convention Center, where a Muslim Convention was underway. Thousands of men, woman and children in a wide array of Middle Eastern garb milled about our hotel, creating a kaleidoscope of colorful activity.
With our daughter off with a friend at a concert, my husband and I stopped by the Baltimore Hilton to a have a drink. Upon entering the hotel, we inhaled an overwhelming scent of Indian spice. Approaching the bar with my usual wide smile, I said to the bartender, “Smells like curry in here.”
The African-American bartender’s face twisted in shock. He looked me in my still smiling eyes and said, “With a racist comment like that, I don’t have to serve you.”
My husband thought he was joking and continued toward a bar stool. I looked up at the bartender’s twisted expression and said to my husband, “He wasn’t joking.” The bartender repeated the racist accusation. Well, you could have blown me over with an exhale.
I have been accused of a few things in my life, but being a racist is not one them. I am a staunch defender of equality. I believe from the bottom of my ambitious boots to the top of my hard-earned graying roots, that to judge a person by their color, lifestyle choice, or religion is the purest form of ignorance.
My curry comment was an observation. (P.S.- I love curry.) Yet, it was turned against me in Baltimore, a city lambasted in the media for its recent handling of racial issues. I left the Hilton outraged, angry and insulted. Back in Savannah, I e-mailed Hilton’s CEO, Managing Director and Public Relations Director.
Hilton’s management replied quickly via phone and e-mail. They offered apologies, re-training of its Baltimore staff, and a free stay at the hotel. I mulled the offer over for a few days, deciding that the incident (which is hilarious to those who know me well) should end with a positive. I was determined to create love in hate’s backyard.
This was my reply to Hilton.
“Thank you for your response. I appreciate that Hilton has handled the issue, and your offer to stay as your guest in your hotel. I have been thinking about the offer, and would like to turn this negative experience into something positive.
I would like to accept the complimentary hotel stay and donate it to the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation. This organization runs a house across from Dana Farber Children’s Hospital in Baltimore. It is place for families to stay while their children undergo treatment. During the summer months the house is often full with a long waiting list.
There is a lot of ugliness in this world and my experience at the Hilton was hurtful. However, there are people who hurt from much heavier burdens.”
I am happy to report that Hilton has opened its heart and will donate my ‘curry comment’ stay to the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation.
So what have I learned from this experience?
- Where assumptions and hate reside, love can prosper.
- Turning the page past anger takes power from the unjust, and frees a spirit of giving.
- Curry is one powerful spice.
Blessings for a day seasoned with love and justice,