Why Marriott’s response to racism in their hotels matters
Stepping away from weight-loss for a post and addressing an issue pertinent to some of the other themes of my blog. Something that has been bothering me for awhile but was magnified in recent months by an issue that occurred at the Walnut Creek Marriott in February as well as the response from the parties involved.
Before I begin, I should probably disclose that I am a white woman in my early to mid-thirties. My husband is black. Honestly, being part of a mixed race couple was never something that seemed out of place to me growing up in California. Maybe I am just lucky to have awesome parents who took every opportunity they could to educate me about racial, gender, and cultural sensitivity. Obviously it’s also because I am not a minority, but I never realized just how much microracism existed in our society until I started dating my husband.
When I first learned about the female Marriott employee ignoring the black high school students and educators on the elevator, I was frustrated and upset. I was angry that someone had made my husband and colleagues as well as high school students feel like they were second class citizens. That they were not worthy of a friendly smile and greeting by a member of the hospitality industry.
Here’s how this situation SHOULD have worked out. The woman, when faced with what happened and how it made people feel, should have acknowledged that what she did excluded people of a racial minority. She should have verbally acknowledged that her actions were hurtful. She should have sincerely apologized for the action and the emotional response it caused. What I have learned over nine years is that micro racism isn’t always intentional and even someone with good intentions most of the time can still be a perpetrator of micro racism. I am willing to admit that I too have at some point committed an act of micro aggression and may not have even realized it at the time. This “more subtle, casual form of bigotry” occurs daily and is sometimes so subverted that neither party is aware until the damage is done.
The problem is that the employee didn’t seem to think what she did was wrong. Based on the reactions from management, neither did they. My husband was stopped in an open lobby when it was convenient for management but then not allowed to have the conversation where he had been stopped. He felt confronted publicly but then could not react publicly per management. And in other moves, rather than attempting to arrange an actual meeting about the situation with the black coaches and students, management went to the white organizers to arrange a meeting, bringing another act of micro aggression into the mix.
The problem is escalated and the entire process drawn out, each step another reminder of the otherization committed by this employee. However at every step, no one at Marriott appears to acknowledge how the actions of the employee left their guests feeling.
The denial of racism by Marriott is racism. It is the refusal to recognize the feelings of customers. It is ignorance of how microracism is just as racist and perhaps more damaging than overt racism. And it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of all who learn that the customer isn’t always right if the customer has dark skin.
Because education is important to me, let’s examine some responses that Marriott could have made in addition to the individual employee. First is by going back to corporate roots. According to a letter sent to my husband, Marriott has a long history in dealing with diversity. It sounds like this individual employee (and then the management) should get some retraining. If the member of management had apologized, offered his contact information for follow up, and then acknowledged the stresses and emotional otherization along with arranging for follow-up training for the employee, I am certain in speaking to victims that this would have served as a more appropriate reaction.
When management failed, corporate could have taken similar steps to examine the incident and rather than dismiss the customers, examine the training being given at a corporate level regarding microracism. If employees and management don’t think it’s a “big deal” then there is something more that is wrong that just the initial incident. And then let the customers know that you are following up on the review of the training.
A hospitality company that fails to recognize the emotional harm inflicted by an employee is one that does not care about it’s guests. That’s not the message Marriott probably wants to send to it’s customer base. But when micro aggression goes unchecked and otherization of guests occurs by all levels of the organization, it is unfortunately the one we are left with.