What about me made that woman say that?

I took my grandchildren to play indoor golf recently. There were already several groups playing there, but there was room for us to join and social distance. So we went in, but I couldn’t find anyone working there. We waited at the counter for five minutes. I asked one group if they had seen any employees, they told me yes, there was one guy working and he had a white shirt on. I looked again through the place, but saw no one matching the description.

We waited a few minutes more. I walked to the back looking for the office. I knocked on the door marked “employees only” but there was no answer. I asked another group if they had seen the employee and said they had a few minutes before. We waited another five minutes. This, I thought, was strange. Who would leave a business unattended for so long with people in the establishment? Did he quit? Did something happen? And odd to me that no one else seemed concerned.

I called the number listed for the place, but no answer. So I called the mall’s office and the security officer picked up. I told him I where I was and that I hadn’t seen an employee for at least 15 minutes. At that moment, I hear several people tell me — ”here he is”. I saw the employee , told the security guard, and then told the employee that we had been waiting at least 15 minutes.

He wasn’t apologetic, just said he was in the bathroom and rather curtly asked me if I had a coupon (I did — it was why we came that particular day). I gave it to him, told him how many rounds we wanted to play and then said it would be helpful if he left a note on the counter when he wasn’t there.

At that point one of the other patrons stepped up to the counter and said to the employee, “I just want to tell you that you are doing a great job.”

How would you react? How would you feel, what would you think? My first feeling was indignation, but then I quickly thought — that person is doing what they think they need to do in this situation — and I wondered, why did they feel that way. Though I am pretty sure I know why.

My grandchildren and I are white; the employee was black as were most of the other patrons there. My guess is that woman went into protective mode — her statement was not just to make the employee know that they had his back, but to let me know too.

My indignation arose from my instinctive thought — ”hey don’t judge me — you don’t know me” but it dispelled just as quickly as I thought: They don’t know me, so maybe they don’t feel like they have the luxury of trusting that I am not the type who would be that “Karen” and, I hope not, but maybe at that moment I sounded like someone who would.

I would have liked to be able to ask the woman why she felt the need to say what she said when she said it. But I felt any attempt at conversation at that point may be perceived negatively and as me trying to be defensive or antagonistic.

Everyone was having fun in there, my grandchildren were ready to have fun (and we did). It wasn’t the right time or place, the woman didn’t owe me an explanation, and I could be completely misreading everything.

But I would still like to know. Because even though we were all in the same place and enjoying the same experience, I felt a divide between us and the other patrons that was uncomfortable and sad. Did they feel it too? Or were we nonexistent to them after that? Would it have played out differently if the color of our skins were reversed, or all the same?

Educator, attorney, mom, wife, American, human