With Nelson Mandela’s funeral on the television, Sammy, who is 6, turned to me with a question that quickly grabbed my attention. Having already discussed his death, his activism, and apartheid, Sammy was very aware of Madiba’s struggles for justice. Listening to the commentators praise Mandela for his courage and beautiful spirit, he asked, “if he was so good, why would they put him in jail.” Inundated with messages that prisons are for bad people, he was clearly processing what felt like an incongruity of a heroic Mandela being locked up in a place that is suppose to be for bad people. This wasn’t the first time we’d engaged this topic, having pushed him to think about how PlayMobile imagines the world within its “police set,” which has police and robbers. We spent many minutes discussing why someone might steal and how such choices don’t inherently make someone a bad person. These conversations are never easy; they are messy and complex, which is made that much more difficult by the simplistic messages disseminated within kid’s culture. This past summer, I was hopeful when I learned that Sesame Street would shed light on the issue of mass incarceration.
Reflecting its history of engaging broader social realities (divorce, AIDS, death, perpetual war culture), Sesame Street broke the mainstream media’s relative silence regarding children of incarcerated parents in 2013. It introduces viewers to Alex, whose father is in jail. Upset by queries from friends about “where his Dad is,” Alex eventually tells the group that he’s in jail. Sofia notes that her dad was also “incarcerated” leading Abby Cadabby to ask, “what’s carcerate?” In response, she notes, “When someone breaks law, a grown-up rule, they have to go to prison or jail.” In another segment Murray and Nylo talk about the emotional difficulties of living with a family member in prison, emphasizing the importance of conversation and love. Another segment documents a little girl visiting her father, describing the bus ride, the rules, the sights, sounds, and emotional trauma of only getting to see a loved one within these conditions. Given the erasure of the impact of incarceration on families and the refusal to humanize those “made to disappear,” Sesame Street’s intervention is important.
The reaction to the Alex character was predicable; it highlights the importance of challenging dominant representations of prisons and incarcerated people and the dialects between America’s prison nation and its collective consciousness regarding those locked up.
References to interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary work have become commonplace within today’s university. Not only erasing the complex and contentious history, its usage has become part of a lexicon that seeks to celebrate work that “transcends” the borders and boundaries of a discipline (& in turn reinscribing TRADITIONAL disciplines as authentic and most desirable).
Despite its usage, or ubiquitous misuse, much of the discourse around interdisciplinarity fails to account for actual interdisciplinary work; it ignores the spaces, and the people who have carried out interdisciplinary projects that are less invested in a particular cannon, a set of theories or methods, or way or thinking but instead concentrates on understanding and transformations. The failure to acknowledge, support, and invest in scholars who are at the forefront (and crossroads) of interdisciplinary work demonstrates the persistence of siloed/disciplinary thinking.
In her new book, Dr. Shana L. Redmond talks the “interdisciplinary mantle” back. In breaking tremendous ground, and in highlighting diasporic histories, the transformative possibilities of the sonic, and the role of music in the formation of imagined (and real) communities, all while demonstrating what interdisciplinary work looks like and the amazing work that can be done through a true embrace of an interdisciplinary praxis, Dr. Redmond delivers a book that is a game changer.
With Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (NY Press, 2013), Dr. Redmond provides a template for what interdisciplinary work looks (and sounds) like. Bringing together ample historiography (and archival materials), the tools of ethno-musicology, textual analysis commonplace within cultural studies, the literature of diaspora, and social movement theory, Dr. Redmond offers a book that centers music “because it creates collective engagement in performance and contributes to a dense black performance history that continually configures Black citizenship through shared ambitions” (13).
The power of Anthem rests not simply with its profound analysis, the range of anthems that it explores, but Dr. Redmond’s ability to offer robust discussions of the sonic. For example, in her discussion of “Ol’ Man River,” Dr. Redmond provides readers with ample background, offering insights into the historic moment of production, the biography of Paul Robeson, and the song’s textual/performative significance, all while demonstrating the power in discussing sound/musicality. “All of Joe’s musical entries are in this key, making Joe phonically and making him the human equivalent of the unadorned CM key – plan and bare. The composition changes in measures 25 to 33 to a solid chord accompaniment with prevalent augmented chords leading the ear to anticipate the sonic” (p. 105). This is the kind of depth of analysis and the range of approaches found in Anthem.
The power of the book rests with its varied (yet dialectical) points of entry – its focus on exploring music, as a “three dimensional document, practice and experience.” As such, it provides a range approaches and analytical frameworks. For example, Dr. Redmond’s discussion of Nina Simone “Four Women” brings into focus the narrative, the representational elements, in these anthems. Here she writes, “Simone confronts the flattening of Black women into one-dimensional objects by addressing intersectional identities of four distinct Black women, all of them representations of women who are at one and the same real and imagined” (p. 185).
Arguing that music provides the basis for an imagined community, creates the tools for agitation, the language of diasporic identity, the historic frameworks, knowledge, the vehicles of movement, and “a method of rebellion, revolution and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detail, and destroy communities” (p. 1). Music is a movement, and music moves . . . people, history, organization, and communities.
Here, Dr. Redmond builds on Robin D.G. Kelley’s idea of “freedom dreams,” highlighting how sonic performances not only articulate possibilities but also induce change. Sampling Kelley, who described black music as “capable of creating ‘a world of pleasure, not just escape the everyday brutalities of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy but to build community, establish fellowship, play and laugh, and plant seeds for a different way of living, a different way of hearing” (p. 8), Redmond demonstrates a genealogy of diasporic resistance. Pushing back at narratives that confine sonic resistance to movement music, as the “soundtrack” or the musical pulse of movement, that so often positions artists and their creations as the periphery of the real (grassroots, organizationally base) political/material struggles, Dr. Redmond documents the many ways that diasporic anthems have been “absolutely central to the unfolding politics because they held within them the doctrines and beliefs of the people who participated in their performances, either as singers or listening audience.” Evidence here, Anthem engages readers to think about resistance, performance, production and consumption of works that disrupted a white supremacist sonic hegemony.
A prominent theme within this book, and many exploring the history of black freedom movements, and black cultural resistance is movement. Amid a history defined by forced stagnation and confinement (slavery, Jim Crow – Sundown towns –, housing segregation, employment discrimination, the prison industrial complex, flattened stereotypes), the history of resistance (and the representations of resistance) has emphasized fluidity, movement, and dynamism. Anthem brings movement into the discussion in profound ways; at one level, the book documents movements, those individuals and their artistic creations who have pushed the community forward, who have resisted the stifling violence of white supremacy. At another level, the book takes readers on a journey throughout the diaspora, demonstrating how the sounds and the struggle of resistance are circulating, moving in and out of different locations, during different moments in history. No song is suck in time; no sound is confined to a certain community or historical moment. Still yet, at another level, Dr. Redmond reveals how these anthems moved people into action while also reflecting the daily moves and maneuvers central to a larger history of resistance. In other words, while the sounds of black freedom movements reveal the shifting “freedom dreams” and the different repertoire of tools available, the anthems, the performances, and the communities resulting from these shared texts were equally powerful as instruments and agents of change.
Dr. Shana Redmond’s Anthem offers an important intervention in how we talk about music, how we talk about diaspora, how we talk about resistance, and how we talk about the dialectics between 6 powerful anthems. Together they “represent a rich variety of perspectives, positions, traditions in African Diasporic history and culture, and through each of them a connection or response between communities is witnessed” (p. 271). And the power is heard, felt, and experienced in the songs themselves, and Dr. Redmond powerful positioning them within a larger history of resistance and the sounds of solidarity.
Instead of providing a brief discussion of each anthem, here are the anthems themselves. Listen and then go out and get this book to understand the textual, the sonic, the historic, and the transformative dimensions of each
Dr. Redmond notes limits on page 19 – what are these limits and is this unique to music?
Does the book complicate the idea around “musical genre” or different eras of “music”;
How does the film complicate if not disrupt the nostalgia afforded to certain artists or music (is there no “post” – 264)?
What the book tell us about globalization and collective struggle?
Benedict Anderson argues that newspapers/text are central to formation of nationalist project – imagined communities. How does this book highlight the sonic power for imagined communities?
What are the shortcomings of seeing music as “soundtrack” or as part of “backdrop” of movements dedicated to material or political change
In what ways is music textual and performative, individual and collective
Why do you think hip-hop is peripheral to the narrative yet seemingly central to the discussion of sonic resistance (this is not a critique but a source of praise for a book that offers great insight into hip-hop yet does not center it)
Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance—jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop—that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.
In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “White Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”
As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”
Be it the thumping bass of artists like Mac Miller and Mike Posner, or the blaring noise of Asher Roth, Sam Adams, or Hoodie Allen, the white rappers who are gaining a foothold in the college scene need to be seen as part of a longstanding tradition of white theft of black artistry. The popularity of those artists, alongside that of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—cannot be understood outside their whiteness.
The frat-rap craze saw its origins in 2009, with the release of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” This subgenre not only markets itself to white college students but also marries the aesthetics and sensibilities of hip-hop with the experiences and narratives of white, male college students. Rather than building on oppositional traditions of hip-hop, which the former frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck D, once identified as “CNN for black people,” frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.
The moniker of frat rap is powerful because it reflects a desired level of ownership. White-fraternity claims to the music and culture displace a long association of rap with blackness, urbanity, and the inner city. Instead, the music exists within the context of the university.
miley-cyrus-2014Miley fatigue is in full effect, but we feel it is important that we as white people speak up, and hold our folks accountable to their racist behavior. The burden far too often falls on people of color to respond, to explain, to teach, to protest.
This year’s Video Music Awards were yet another historical moment where whiteness reigned supreme. Black and Brown cultural creators and innovators were for the most part invisible, or worse, used as evidence of acceptance or racial progress. Jon Caramanica highlights how the VMAs were a window into a larger history within American popular culture: “Mr. Timberlake was on trend in way, though: this was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture who were recipients of three awards, including best hip-hop video.”
In this context, the question of appropriation matters – power, privilege, stereotypes, and centuries of racism play through both the appropriation and the resulting responses. To be clear, we are not against white folks embracing the art and culture that speaks truth to their hearts and souls, as hip-hop culture is still our first love, rather we are advocating for acknowledgement, accountability, and action. We are calling for examination of how stereotypes and blackness within the white imagination are often present within these moments of appropriation.
MacklemoreOn the privilege spectrum, we find ourselves appreciating Macklemore at a certain level, who is beginning, by at least acknowledging, in his lyrics, that white privilege is one of the reasons he is successful. Honest and courageous. In a recent interview, he noted, “I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something. A song like ‘Thrift Shop‘ was safe enough for the kids…. the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe.’”
His rhetorical and lyrical stance doesn’t mean he isn’t cashing in on his privileges. The awards, the celebration of him as “exceptional” and different, the erasure of artists like 9th Wonder, Azealia Banks, Murs, Angel Haze, dead prez or Jasiri X from discussions of independent and conscious artists, and his popularity among white youth all speak to the centrality of whiteness. For him, and for us, the next step is to take that and be accountable by being in action for racial justice. Using his platform to impact the movement toward racial justice.
I couldn’t put this book down. It is a wonderful history that introduces readers to three amazing artist/activist women: Ann Petry, May-Lou Williams and Pearl Primus. She chronicles their artistry (with amazing detail), the vibrancy of a community, a culture of progressive opposition, and resistance movements within 1940s Harlem. Dr. Griffin’s prose transports readers into this moment, allowing one to picture, smell, and hear all that was happening in this moment – I found myself watching Petry dance, or listening to Williams, all while thinking about their collective challenges to white supremacy.
And while the book brings Primus’ dance, Petry’s word, and Williams’ music to life, she is equally successful in bringing the dynamism of 1940s Harlem, the post-war moment, the progressive struggles, and a burgeoning struggle for racial justice, for full citizenship, and recognition. into focus
Harlem Nocture highlights the daily challenges to white supremacy waged by these artists. She shows artistry as the outgrowth of the community, the politics of the moment, and collective experiences. Griffin writes, “New York beckoned, and they came. They gave it substance, word and music, dance and meaning. In turn, it gave them inspiration, a community, and an audience. It contributed to each one’s already strong sense of self. It gave them the world” (187). In this sense, Harlem Nocture is a story of 1940s and three amazing artists. But it is also explicitly a history of three black women whose artistry, experiences, and politics “fueled change” within the community and beyond. They “were agents, not spectators. They advocated for access to education, jobs, and adequate food and shelter. They were concerned with both racial and economic equality. They walked the streets of Harlem during the time that a young Baldwin walked those same streets” (9). This work offers a narrative of these inspiring artists, reminding readers of their “freedom dreams” and our own. Amazing history, amazing artists, and amazing book
Walking out of the theater in West Los Angeles, I felt a lot of emotions. Even before Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station started, I felt the film at a visceral level: I was sad, anxious, angry, and disheartened as I sat down. Emotionality is central to the film.
As brilliant as the film is at tapping into the emotionality of Oscar Grant’s killing, it is not simply a film of anguish or one that builds upon the outrage and sadness compelled by murders #every28hours. It is a work of art; a tapestry of images, narratives, and movements. It is a story of depth about a layered life put together through sight and sound, image and voice.
There is a lot to be said about the film at an intellectual, artistic, and cinematic level. For example, Coogler’s ability to “make Oakland a character” is crucial to the film; it is done with great precision and depth. The shots of street signs, the Bay, BART, and several Oakland landmarks are critical to the film’s situating of Grant’s life and death within a physical landscape. To understand Oscar Grant and to reflect on his death, requires an ability to see and hear, feel and understand, Oakland in post civil rights, post 9/11 America. His life and death is a story of Oakland; it is also a story of neighborhoods and communities across the nation.
With its use of the camera, from the close-ups of Tatiana scrubbing crabs to the various moments that brought Grant’s humanity to life, Fruitvale Station forces viewers to not only confront Grant’s death and his killing in 2009, but his life: his relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz); his adoration for his mother Wanda Johnson (Octavia Spencer) and sister; his beautiful interactions with his daughter; and the many obstacles he faced in an unforgiving America. Wesley Morris offers an important assessment of the film when he writes:
Fruitvale Station speaks to that yawning discrepancy. What feels slight, shaggy, and ordinary about it is also rather remarkable. To present Grant this way — as a son who loves his mother, as a father who loves his daughter, as the sort of person who comforts a dying dog and pleads with a shop owner to permit a pregnant woman to use his restroom — is to remove the stigma. He’s a lower-middle-class kid who got mixed up with crime. But most of the narrative belongs to a charming, charismatic, devoted young man, someone striving to better himself. It’s not only that this Grant is a person. It’s that, to a fault, he’s made to be more than black male pathology.
Rahiel Tesfamariam similarly emphasizes the film’s cinematic and narrative success in humanizing Grant – in challenging the systemic flattening of black bodies. Fruitvale Station gives voice to Grant and the injustice evident in his death and in doing so challenges America’s racial landscape.
We also see this vulnerability play out in his dealings with the matriarchs in his family… These women are his anchors in life. Sophina keeps him honest, holds him accountable and brings out his sensual side. Through their relationship, we see his desire to be a protector and provider. His mother Wanda grounds him in prayer and nurtures him through wise words and good food. Her “tough love” approach often haunts him in his actions and decision-making. Then, there’s Grandma Bonnie who keeps him connected to tradition and the family history that proceeds him.
This backdrop is so important to the film, and to a larger landscape of anti-black racism; yet as I watched and cried, I found myself asking myself: does the persistence of segregation in Hollywood constrain the impact of such an important film? Does the nature of distribution limit the reach of films centering African American voices and experiences into “red state America”?
Given the ubiquity of the criminalized black body, and given the widespread practice of blaming Grant or Trayvon Martin for their own deaths, it is disheartening to know that those who continue to peddle and profit in/from anti-black racism will unlikely watch Fruitvale Station.
It is infuriating that those who blame inequality on “single mothers” and “children born out-of-wedlock” will never be forced to digest the beautiful relationship that Tatiana had with her father Oscar, who would be part of that 72% statistic cited without any thought over and over again.
The anger I felt is about the killing of Oscar Grant – and Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ayana Jones-Stanley, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo; yet it was about a theater with only a handful of people; it is about knowledge of multiplexes across the country screening zombie movies and another about a snail rather than films that have the potential to transform a generation. It is about knowledge that Madea, the Help, or the Butler will more likely be screened than the stories of Oscar Grant or Ruby.
Frustration, sadness, and anger.
Almost 100 years after the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film steeped in white supremacy and anti-black violence, Fruitvale Station brings a level of black humanity that has remain on the periphery of the Hollywood imagination for a century. Almost 100 years after the release of a film that celebrated the rise of the Klan as the necessary force to thwart black savagery, Fruitvale Station stepped into a cinematic and larger racial landscape to offer a powerful counter narrative to the anchors of contemporary racism. Yet, 100 years after Birth of a Nation was celebrated as “history written in lightening,” the prospect of Fruitvale Station receiving similar treatment feels to the right of impossible.
As with the struggle for justice itself, the actual hearing and seeing of Grant, Martin, Diallo, and so many others remains a distant possibility. As with the activists who have used their cell phones to document the specter of police violence and anti-black/brown racism, Coogler uses his camera to further force a nation to confront these realities. Fruitvale Station shines a spotlight on this empathy deficit and the denied humanity. And like the killing of Grant, this is the source of my frustration, sadness, and anger.
But be clear, Fruitvale Station is reality written in lightening; a piercing ray of truth telling that is painful. It is a disheartening, infuriating, and devastating reality; one that everyone should confront before another train arrives at Fruitvale Station.
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.
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.
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 imagines 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.