Panama City Beach holiday – Discrimination and profiling (can be subconscious behaviors)

I had a negative experience earlier today while in Florida.

Mary and I spent the last week at Panama City Beach for Mary’s family reunion. Even though it wouldn’t have been my first choice for a holiday destination, we had a great week with Mary’s family… all 34 of us! :-) These are the two houses in which we stayed for a week.

Panama City Beach Houses

Earlier this morning Mary flew out to go to a work-related meeting somewhere in Utah. My flight back to Seattle wasn’t until 12h later so I had plenty of time to kill.

I went for a drive to have breakfast at Liza’s Kitchen, a local restaurant which had good reviews. I love smiling people. The food and the service were great. Then back to the Pier Park shopping area, close to the houses where we were staying and on the way to the airport. I caught up with email from a Starbucks for an hour or so and then headed to watch “The Secret Life of Pets” (yeah… I love cartoons and computer animation).

I bought my ticket and entered the cinema. As always, I greeted the gentleman who was checking for tickets and asked about his day, just being the usual cheerful self. That’s when it all started.

The ticket-checking gentleman informed me that I couldn’t get into the cinema because I was carrying a “backpack”, referring to my courier laptop bag. As he indicated to me, it was the cinema’s policy to not allow backpacks. I informed him that it was my laptop and offered to open it up for him to inspect the contents. Apparently he couldn’t do that. I just had to find a way to leave my bag somewhere. Ok… fair enough… a policy is a policy. My Crumpler laptop bag is very similar to this one…

bag

Given that it was already passed the start time of the movie previews, I decided to just return to the ticket office for a refund. I continued to be cheerful since it wasn’t that a big of a deal.

On my way out, I noticed a white lady entering with one of those bags that are larger than a suitcase :-) Ok… not as big as a suitcase but noticeably larger than my laptop bag.

No questions asked. She was just allowed to enter. No policy enforcement for her.

I was surprised and started to get frustrated about what could have been the reason behind the decision to not let ME in. Could it have been profiling? Could I have been discriminated because of my thick accent and the way I look? Big guy with dark skin? (yeah… I do rediscover my darker Mediterranean skin color when I get exposed to the sun for a while :-).

I waited in line at the ticket office for the ticket refund.

My turn came up and I explained what had happened to justify the refund. The gentleman at the ticket office looked very surprised but confirmed the policy. When I pointed out to him that a white lady, without an accent like mine, was allowed to enter without any questions asked, he couldn’t explain why the policy wasn’t equally applied to both of us.

At this point, my voice became louder as I was requesting for an explanation on the policy’s inconsistent enforcement. I asked for the manager. Was I being profiled, even subconsciously, because of my thick accent and darker skin? A gentleman behind me in the ticket line rudely asked me to move over so that he could buy his ticket. I asked him if he had heard about what had just happened. He confirmed that he did. He said that he didn’t care and that all he wanted was to buy a ticket. Another lady behind him piled on and also told me to move over. Argh! People… you need to care about such things, even if—in the large scheme of things—it’s an insignificant incident! It’s behaviors like these that we need to eradicate in this country and around the world. Discrimination MUST NOT be the norm.

The manager arrived. She asked me to enter the building again in order to complete the refund process. I obliged.

The manager tried to explain the policy again. I pointed out to her the inconsistent application of the policy but she kept responding with “I don’t know what happened.” Well… “ask the gentleman here who didn’t let me in,” I suggested. For some reason, she didn’t want to involve the gentleman who was checking for the tickets. Instead, she suggested that we test my laptop bag against the box they had for measuring the maximum allowable bag size. I hadn’t noticed the existence of that box. Interestingly enough, the gentleman who turned me away never suggested that we use it in order to check whether my laptop bag was within the allowable limit. Well, guess what… it was a perfect fit. It’s as if the box was made to match my bag’s dimensions, all three of them. Well, the box was just slightly larger than my bag. Soooo… Again, why wasn’t I allowed to enter?

The manager appeared to be out of words at this point while I was furious. She couldn’t give me a reason on why I wasn’t allowed in. She kept repeating that she didn’t know what had happened but rejected any suggestion that they profiled me. Apparently that’s not what they do.

There was no point in trying to find a reason for what had happened. I got the refund and left.

I am not suggesting that the staff explicitly targeted me. Discrimination and profiling at any environment can be subconscious actions, heavily influenced by one’s upbringing, life learnings, biases. There is training for work environments to avoid exactly this type of behavior.

Also, this is such a minor incident compared to what millions have to go through, in this country and around the world. One’s skin color, sexual or gender orientation, economic background, educational level, country of origin, and so much more cannot be used for discrimination. In fact, no characteristic should even be used for discrimination in our society. Not even the apathy or ignorance of people like the ones I encountered today.

With my experience recorded, I will now file a complaint about what happened at the “The Grand Theatre” cinema to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Better Business Bureau. I will also post it as a review about the cinema. Finally, I will share it with the cinema’s General Manager,  John Kampe, and the parent company.

I do hope we can persuade Mary’s family to hold the next reunion somewhere else. I am going to try my best to avoid visiting this place ever again, if I can help it.

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