A Place at the Table (Online Writing)

What did you learn from the film that you didn’t know already? How has it changed your perspective? How does this film connect with our reading about restaurant industry and our discussions about privilege and stereotypes? What can you do with this information?


Last day November 15


‘I Wish I Were Black’ and Other Tales of Privilege (Participation)

‘I Wish I Were Black’ and Other Tales of Privilege

'I Wish I Were Black' and Other Tales of Privilege 1

Eva Vazquez for The Chronicle

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By Angela Onwuachi-Willig

“To be white is to not think about it,” a white legal scholar named Barbara Flagg wrote two decades ago.

After the University of Texas at Austin denied Abigail Fisher admission, she made several statements that revealed just how little she had ever had to think about her race. Fisher, the petitioner in the Supreme Court’s recently decided affirmative-action case, said in a videotaped interview made available by her lawyers: “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.”

As decades of debates over affirmative action have revealed, many whites spend so little time having to think about, much less deal with, race and racism, that they understand race as nothing more than a plus factor in the admissions process. Like Fisher, they fail to see the many disadvantages that stem from simply existing as a person of color in this country—disadvantages that often hamper opportunities to achieve the badges that help students “win” in the admissions game. They fail to see how ignoring race and racial contexts, in which many students of color must work to achieve their successes, devalues those students’ accomplishments. And they fail to see how ignoring race is itself a form of racial discrimination.

Although I applied to college nearly 25 years ago, I, too, encountered my own “Abigail Fisher” in high school. During my senior year, a classmate who had the same SAT score as I did remarked, “I wish I was black!” after he learned about several scholarships I had received (only one of which was for minority students). I was stunned by his comment. After all, his implied statement about my lack of merit was factually wrong by all accounts. Although he viewed us as being the same (much as Fisher views herself as being superior to her classmates of color), it was clear that he knew nothing about me other than my race and our matching scores. Unlike him, I ranked academically among the top 10 students in my class. Indeed, I was ranked more than 20 spots ahead of him. I also held leadership positions in and engaged in more activities than nearly all of my other classmates, while he participated in just one activity. I had a job; he had none. The list could go on. Of course, at that time, I did not think to point those facts out to my classmate. Instead my initial reaction was to correct him: “I wish I were black,” I said. “And, no, you don’t.”

But my classmate’s delusions about his own record were just the tip of an iceberg. For one thing, he ignored the fact that he had simply not engaged in any work to obtain scholarships. Unlike me, he came from a rich family, while I, a future Pell Grant student, had spent weeks researching and applying for scholarships.

More than that, my classmate failed to think for even one moment about what being black may have meant for his life. He never considered what it would have meant to sit all day in classrooms where he was the only white student in a sea of black faces.

By failing to engage in this simple thought experiment, he discounted my achievements. He failed to consider the extra effort, drive, and patience that it took for me to remain focused and to excel in a school where many white students regularly used the N-word. He ignored the fortitude that it took to learn in an environment in which students and even some teachers found it acceptable to wear clothing depicting Confederate flags. He failed to see the extra skill, grit, and intelligence it took to be the first black to achieve a string of accomplishments in a high school where, like many schools in the South, tracking essentially segregated the racially diverse student body—I was almost always the only black student in my honors courses—and where some whites would react negatively, whether consciously or unconsciously, to any black success other than in sports.

My classmate ignored the extra work I had to perform because I did not have a parent with the “college knowledge” or cultural capital to guide me through the admissions process.

Had my classmate looked more broadly at the many disparities between blacks and whites in health, wealth, income, college attendance and graduation, life expectancy, and a host of other factors, he might never have found the nerve to wish he were black.

He might have even recognized his own privileges.

It is hard to read quotes by Abigail Fisher, as well as the briefs in Fisher v. Texas, and see the same lack of awareness—a sense of entitlement made worse when commingled with indifference to the facts—that I encountered many years ago. In interviews, Fisher has lamented that she was unable to follow a family tradition of attending Texas, and she has done so without any apparent sense of how a tradition of law, backed by blatant racism and white supremacy, kept blacks from gaining admission to the university until 1950. That year Heman Sweatt won a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Texas law school’s policy of racial segregation. (Sweatt went on to enroll in the law school, where he endured racial slurs and cross burnings; he left the program during his second year.)

By contrast, Fisher graduated from high school in the affluent Houston suburb of Sugar Land. In explaining why she thought she deserved to be admitted to the university, she said: “I took a ton of AP classes, I studied hard and did my homework—and I made the honor roll. … I was in extracurricular activities. I played the cello and was in the math club, and I volunteered. I put in the work I thought was necessary to get into UT.”

Yet she failed to recognize the great privileges that her comments revealed. Cello? That meant her family could afford private lessons. Or, if her school offered cello classes, that fact alone speaks volumes about its resources. Volunteering? That suggests she did not need a paying job to help support her family—and that she was not part of any group that frequently finds itself on the receiving end of volunteering. AP courses? That fact, too, reveals much about privilege, since so many schools in the United States, particularly majority-minority schools, are unable to offer such courses as part of their curricula.

It’s great that many high schools can offer orchestra lessons, AP courses, and other educational opportunities to their students, and those students should take advantage of them. What’s troubling is that many of them do not seem to realize that these are privileges not made available to everyone.

Nearly 25 years after my own high-school experience, we have not moved much beyond the ignorance reflected in my classmate’s remark about wishing to be black. It is heartbreaking to think that our world and our lives have become so racially segregated that many white students applying to college possess so little understanding of what it substantively means, regardless of socioeconomic status, to live the life of a black person in the United States. It is disappointing to think that students have learned so little about white privilege (and other identity privileges) that they still continue to wish that they were black.

Earlier this year, in an open letter to The Wall Street Journal, headlined “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” a high-school senior named Suzy Lee Weiss wrote: “If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.”

I am still waiting for the day when, rather than wishing they were black, students like my high-school classmate instead think with all earnestness, “Imagine what more my minority peers could have done if they had had white privilege and access.”

Angela Onwuachi-Willig is a professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Law. She is the author of the new book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family (Yale University Press).

Christians refuse to tip waiter because ‘homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God’ (Particpation)

Christians refuse to tip waiter because ‘homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God’

By David Ferguson
Friday, October 25, 2013 8:59 EDT
Waiter pouring wine for customers via Shutterstock
A group of customers refused to tip their 20-year-old server at a Carraba’s Italian restaurant in Overland Park, KS on the grounds that his homosexuality is “an affront to God.” According to KCTV Fox 19, the server went to the table after the group of customers left and found a note explaining their decision.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours,” said the note. “We hope you will see the tip your queer choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for queers. May GOD have mercy on you.”

Friends and supportive customers plan to dine at the restaurant Friday evening as a show of support for the waiter who received the hateful note. He has declined to give his name or go on camera and has asked people not to try and give him money.

He said in a statement, “The offers to help pay me back are much appreciated, but not at all needed. I’d prefer to let my work ethic and my service do the talking, nothing else.”

Watch video about this story, embedded below via Fox 19:

Julianne Hough Dresses As Crazy Eyes For Halloween, Probably Didn’t Think This One Through (Participation)

Julianne Hough Dresses As Crazy Eyes For Halloween, Probably Didn’t Think This One Through (UPDATE)

Posted: 10/26/2013 10:25 am EDT  |  Updated: 10/27/2013 12:33 pm EDT

We’re used to seeing celebrities cross the line of appropriateness on Halloween but it’s usually nothing more than an overly skimpy costume. In Julianne Hough’s case, good sense was thrown out the window when she decided to go as “Orange Is the New Black” character Crazy Eyes.

Hough, 25, donned blackface for her costume yesterday, which she completed with an orange jumpsuit and Crazy Eyes’ signature bantu knots. The actress attended the Casamigos Tequila Halloween party in Hollywood with friends, who appear to have all gone as the cast of the hit Netflix series. No one in the group, however, seems to have given Hough a heads up about her offensive getup.



UPDATE 3:45 p.m.: Hough tweeted an apology, writing:

I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created. It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize.

It’s Bigger than Paula Deen (Participation)

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard, cross-posted from Dr. David J. Leonard

The fallout from Paula Deen’s deposition and the lawsuit itself is a reminder of the ways that race and gender operate within the restaurant industry.  It’s bigger than Paula Deen.  Yet, as you read media reports, as you listen to various commentaries, you would think this is a story about an older white woman wedded to America’s racist past.  Yes, this is a story about Paula Deen, and her crumbing empire.  But that is the beginning, not the end. This is bigger than one individual, her reported prejudices, or the lawsuit at hand.  This is about a restaurant industry mired by discrimination and systemic inequalities.

Racism pervades the entire industry, as evident in the daily treatment faced by workers, the segregation within the industry, differential wage scale, and its hiring practices.  According to Jennifer Lee, “Racial Bias Seen in Hiring of Waiters:”

Expensive restaurants in New York discriminate based on race when hiring waiters, a new study has concluded. The study was based on experiments in which pairs of applicants with similar résumés were sent to ask about jobs. The pairs were matched for gender and appearance, said Marc Bendick Jr., the economist who conducted the study. The only difference was race, he said.

White job applicants were more likely to receive followup interviews at the restaurants, be offered jobs, and given information about jobs, and their work histories were less likely to be investigated in detail, he said Tuesday. He spoke at a news conference releasing the report in a Manhattan restaurant.

There really should not be a lot of difference in how the two of them are treated,” Mr. Bendick said. He was hired by advocacy groups for restaurant workers as part of a larger report called “The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation and Equality in the New York City Restaurant Industry.” He has made a career of studying discrimination, ranging from racism in the advertising industry to sexism in firefighting.

Mr. Bendick said that in industries, such experiments typically found discrimination 20 to 25 percent of the time. In New York restaurants, it was found 31 percent of the time.

A recent report from the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) found that Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille, among others) was responsible for creating a racially hostile environment.


The report also outlines recent lawsuits against Darden for employment discrimination based on race, including a 2008 lawsuit that charged that Beachwood, Ohio Bahama Breeze employees of color were repeatedly pelted with racial slurs such as “Aunt Jemima” and “stupid n**ger” by managers. This resulted in a EEOC announcement of a $1.26 million settlement from Darden in 2009. In describing the settlement, EEOC’s acting chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru said “No worker should have to endure a racially hostile work environment in order to earn a paycheck.”

It additionally concluded that it, “fired black servers because they did not ‘fit the company standard’ at their Capital Grille restaurant” and that it “prevents people of color & immigrants from accessing living wage positions, such as server and bartender, at their Capital Grille fine dining restaurant.” It’s bigger than Deen.

A 2007 lawsuit against Daniel Boulud points to another instance:

According to the lawsuit, dining room workers at Daniel have been denied promotion because they were Latino or Bangladeshi. The employees also say that Mr. Boulud and other managers yelled racial slurs. At one point, they say, Spanish was banned among employees; only English and French were allowed. Those are examples, they say, of how the working culture at Daniel favors white Europeans at the expense of other groups.

Here are but a few examples from the EEOC

In March 2008, a national restaurant chain entered a consent decree agreeing to pay $30,000 to resolve an EEOC case charging that the company gave African-American food servers inferior and lesser-paying job assignments by denying them assignments of larger parties with greater resulting tips and income, by denying them better paying assignments to banquets at the restaurant, and by failing on some occasions to give them assignments to any customers. The consent decree enjoins the restaurant from engaging in racial discrimination and requires the chain to post a remedial notice and amend and distribute its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. The amended policies must state that prohibited racial discrimination in “all other employment decisions” includes, but is not limited to, making decisions and providing terms and conditions of employment such as pay, assignments, working conditions, and job duties; also, it must prohibit retaliation. In addition, the company must revise its complaint mechanism and clarify and expand its website and toll-free phone number for the reporting of incidents of employment discrimination. The consent decree also requires the restaurant to provide training in equal employment opportunity laws for all of its employees and to appoint an Equal Employment Office Coordinator, who will be responsible for investigating discrimination complaints. EEOC v. McCormick & Schmick’s Restaurant Corp, No. 06-cv-7806 (S.D.N.Y. March 17, 2008).

In January 2008, a bakery café franchise in Florida entered a two-year consent decree that enjoined the company from engaging in racial discrimination or retaliation and required it to pay $101,000 to the claimants. EEOC had alleged that the company segregated the Black employees from non-Black employees and illegally fired a class of Black employees in violation of Title VII. Under the consent decree, the principal of the company must attend an eight-hour training session on equal employment opportunity laws. The decree also mandated that if the company ever re-opens the franchise in question or any other store, it must distribute its anti-discrimination policy to all employees, post a remedial notice, and report any future complaints alleging race-based discrimination. EEOC v. Atlanta Bread Co., International and ARO Enterprise of Miami, Inc., No. 06-cv-61484 (S.D. Fla. January 4, 2008).

In September 2006, the Korean owners of a fast food chain in Torrance, California agreed to pay $5,000 to resolve a Title VII lawsuit alleging that a 16-year old biracial girl, who looked like a fair-skinned African American, was refused an application for employment because of her perceived race (Black). According to the EEOC lawsuit, after a day at the beach with her Caucasian friends, the teen was asked if she would request an application on her friend’s behalf since the friend was a little disheveled in appearance. The owner refused to give the teen an application and told her the store was not hiring anymore despite the presence of a “Help Wanted” sign in the window. After consultation among the friends, another White friend entered the store and was immediately given an application on request. EEOC v. Quiznos, No. 2:06-cv-00215-DSFJC (C.D. Cal. settled Sept. 22, 2006).

In December 2005, EEOC resolved this Title VII lawsuit alleging that a fast food conglomerate subjected a Black female employee and other non-White restaurant staff members (some of them minors) to a hostile work environment based on race. The racial harassment included a male shift leader’s frequent use of “n**ger” and his exhortations that Whites were a superior race. Although the assistant manager received a letter signed by eight employees complaining about the shift leader’s conduct, the shift leader was exonerated and the Black female employee who complained was fired. The consent decree provided $255,000 in monetary relief: $105,000 to Charging Party and $150,000 for a settlement fund for eligible claimants as determined by EEOC. EEOC v. Carl Karcher Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Carl’s Jr. Restaurant, No. CV-05-01978 FCD PAW (E.D. Cal. Dec. 13, 2005).

The examples are a plenty. As with every American institution, race matters. Restaurants are immensely segregated: by location, by job, by placement on the floor, by wage, and by clientele. Servers, bartenders, and hosts are white, while runners, bussers, those in the back of the house, and those who make the lowest wages are overwhelming people of color. Of those who have reported earning less than minim wage, 96% are people of color. Workers of color experience racism and microaggressions; they are more likely to be questioned as to their qualifications. It is a world where irrespective of diversity, in terms of both staff and food choices, racism remains a constant on every menu. According to Saru Jayarman, “We tend not to realize that diversity is not the same as equity – that simply seeing a lot of restaurant workers from different backgrounds doesn’t mean that restaurant workers from different backgrounds doesn’t mean that restaurant workers have equal opportunities to advance to jobs that will allow them support themselves and their families.”

The restaurant industry is also rife with sexism – women earn 85 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Women are also relegated to the lowest-paying jobs with the worst chances of upward mobility. Women are subjected to rampant sexual harassment. Although only 7% of the nations workers can be found in restaurants, in 2011 they accounted for 37% of the sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC.

The relative silence about these daily abuses and horrid conditions is telling. It’s bigger than Deen.  She is not the lone rotten apple but one of many in a rotten barrel. Yet the emergent narrative that once again images racism as the purview of southern whites of a previous generation is revealing.  It’s bigger than Deen.   It’s bigger than Food Network but about an industry that has gotten away with abuse and discrimination yet we rarely get to see “behind the kitchen door.” This lawsuit, and the media fallout have shined a spotlight on a culture of abuse and exploitation.  Yet we cant take our eyes off Deen.