It’s Bigger than Paula Deen

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 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.

Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1)

White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1)

The denial of racism is an obsession of white America. In what has become a holy trinity of sorts – accusing others of playing the “race card;” noting the election of Barack Obama; and citing the success of the black middle class and/or the black elite – the denial of racism and the demonization of those who demand that America fulfill its creed of equality plagues contemporary racial discussions. It is a rarity to witness a conversation about race, whereupon this holy trinity isn’t deployed, derailing the conversation before it even begins. Whether highlighting segregation or inequality in access to education, health care, or countless institutions, whether noting the realities of stop-and-frisk or daily confrontations with American racism, the response is often the same: denial, denial, denial.

In an effort to have an honest conversation and to push the conversation beyond this myopic fantasy, I thought I would give the denial crowd some facts. This is for those who like to cite the black middle class as evidence of a post-racial America; this is for those who cite the black middle class (likely never having a meaningful conversation with a person of color of any class status) as evidence that poverty rates, incarceration rates, educational inequality or health disparities is the result of faulty values or a poor work ethic. This is my response to those who dismiss the injustice and inequality endured by poor communities of color – the working poor – by noting the purported American Dream experienced by the black middle-class. For all of them, here is a little dose of reality.


Despite the continued invoking of the black middle-class, the realities of inequality and persistent wealth disparities within the middle-class reveal a different reality. In other words, the wealth on the ground reveals a reality rather entirely different from this white fantasy. According to a 2011 study from Pew Research Center, whites possess 20 times more wealth than African Americans and 18 times that of Latinos. More succinctly, whereas the average white family had $113,149 dollars of wealth, “the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009, and the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth.” As of 1999, whites and blacks similarly situated within the “educational middle class” live in distinct wealth words. Whereas whites possessed $111,000 in median net worth, black families had only $33,5000 dollars; in terms of assets the disparity with $56,000 to $15,000 (Shapiro, 2004, p. 90-91). If we look at “the occupational middle-class” an equally pronounced gap is visible: whites had only $123,000 in median net worth and $60,000 in median net financial assets compare to $26,500 and $11,200 for African Americans. Across the various categories that comprise the middle class, white families possess “between three and five times as much wealth as equally achieving black middle class families.” (Shapiro 2004, p. 90-91)

While persistent wealth disparities stratified along racial lines are nothing new, the Great Recession has worsened this divide. According to Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, “In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents.” Wealth is not only transferable from generation to generation, but wealth is what allows people to generate more wealth, to invest, to borrow money for education, to pay for gymnastics or swimming lessons at some elite school, or to otherwise invest in the future. And the ongoing history of discrimination is systematically destroying the black middle-class. “History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated” during the first half of the twenty-first century, notes Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion. “But we’re not done writing history.” One reason we are not done writing this history is because for too many Americans, this history and this reality is both denied and obscured.

Continue reading @  Dr. David J. Leonard: White Denial and Black Middle-Class Realities (Part 1).

[OPINION] Give Arenas Another Shot – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Give Arenas Another Shot

By David Leonard Writer

It is February and Gilbert Arenas is still looking for a job in the NBA. While rumors swirl about his potentially joining the Los Angeles Lakers, “Agent Zero” remains a free agent. The lack of interest, whether it be from the many teams requiring greater depth in this injury plagued, compressed season, or those bottom dwelling franchises whose seasons’ are on life support (see: Michael Jordan’s Bobcats), makes one wonder if Arenas has been declared unemployable by both the media and the teams throughout the league.

The one-time NBA All-Star has had a few rocky years. Between 2007-2010, Arenas played only 47 games because of injuries and a suspension for bringing a gun into the Washington Wizards’ locker room. The 2010-2011 season was his first close-to-full season (with two teams), but his career low averages in points and shooting percentage while playing with the Orlando Magic has led commentators to question his ability. Ignoring the impact of injuries and suspensions and the fact that his numbers were fine while he was playing substantial minutes with the Wizards in 2010 (17.3 on almost 40% and close to 6 assists per game), the media and teams themselves appear to be written Arenas off.

Even Stan Van Gundy, the Magic’s coach, cautioned against selling Arenas short because of his performance with the Magic, prior to their releasing him by using their amnesty provision: “I don’t think it’s fair to judge Gilbert’s time here. If anything, if people are unhappy with the way Gilbert performed here, you got to lay that on me and the role I gave him. I don’t think you can lay that on Gilbert. I don’t think Gilbert really had much of a chance to play well consistently, with what happened.”

Fair or not, the lack of opportunities afforded to Arenas illustrate how he continues to be judged, although maybe not for on-court reasons alone.

It is hard not to think that Arenas has been unable to change his reputation and the widespread demonization he has experienced over his career. No amount of apologies, efforts to redeem himself, or even time has allowed Arenas to shake the “bad boy” label like he use to shake defenders.

In the aftermath of Arenas and then-teammate Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the Wizards locker room and pulling them on one another, and Arenas later making light of the issue with a myriad of tweets and his decision to simulate holding a gun during pregame warm-ups, the media denounced him not only as someone who made a bad decision, but as a bad person that deserves to be in prison for a significant amount of time. He was part of a generation of arrogant, entitled, uneducated, and otherwise despicable hip-hop ballers who lacked respect for the game, the fans, and basic civility. For example, Ed Berlinger, in “Next Stop for Gilbert Arenas? Prison Basketball team,” defined Arenas in relationship to a criminal (Black) underclass, all while depicting Arenas as representative of the pathological and destructive culture of today’s (black) athletes.

Praising David Stern for his giving these players 1-year suspensions, Berlinger offered the following: “Nothing could be more necessary in teaching our generation of spoiled, morally inept, law breaking athletic sycophants that they can no longer fall back on the “my dog ate my homework” excuse…He’s a common, street level criminal. One who just happens to wear tailored suits. A convict in the making who may luckily have been revealed before he truly decided to take a life with what would have been spun as an “accident”…His complete disregard for human life and a simple level of societal behavior puts him just above the gang-bangers who revel in their ability to shovel guns in the face of anyone who dare to question their superiority.”

Evident here, much of the media saw Arenas a symptom of a larger problem within the NBA, one that needed correction if the league had any chance of prospering into the future. Not surprisingly, Jason Whitlock seized upon the opportunity to denounce Arenas as an example of what happens when professional athletes do not go to college: “Singling out Arenas as the NBA’s lone idiot gunman is as naive as believing Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone…Harsh sanction is not the cure for ignorance. Education is…Gilbert Arenas can’t think critically. Like most elite athletes, no one has ever tried to teach him to think in a language and field he enjoys.”

The continued penalization (or ostracizing) of Arenas, who like so many others confined to the criminalized class has not been given a second chance, illustrates the ways that his mere presence in the league was seen as a threat. The efforts to imagine Arenas as pathological, uneducated, and unredeemable highlight the context of his difficult employment prospects within the NBA.

Continue reading @ [OPINION] Give Arenas Another Shot – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

When It Comes to Sports, Race Still Matters – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

When It Comes to Sports, Race Still Matters

By David Leonard Writer

The emergence of Jeremy Lin as international superstar, and resulting tweets from Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, has prompted widespread debate about whether or not race matters in both the media representation and in understanding the arch of his career. Without a doubt, race matters when talking about Lin given his path to the NBA, prejudice experienced while on the court (see here for examples; see here broader discussion), and the larger context of anti-Asian racism. Lin is not evident of some post-racial fantasy, but instead a reminder of how race matters. It matters whether talking about sports, housing, education, foreign policy, economic inequality, media culture, and interpersonal relations.

Race matters when examining the media representations of Black athletes, whether were talking about the demonization of Michael Vick (the most despised athlete in America), Barry Bonds, or LeBron James; it matters in look at the stories of redemption afforded to Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Hamilton, or the lack of media attention directed at Kevin Love following his recent stomp. To deny the impact and significant of race with Lin is as absurd as deploying “the race denial card” in these contexts as well. To imagine Lin outside of the scope of race and racism, or to isolate race as something usual in this instance, especially given the ways that the NBA is associated with blackness (the subtext here feels as if the discussion is being reduced to anti-Asian prejudice from African Americans), represents an immense failure.

So race matters when thinking about Lin’s recruitment (or lack thereof) out of high school and his path to the NBA, as race matters when talking about employment discrimination.

Racism holds people back in every industry, from higher education to the business world. Researchers at the Discrimination Research Center, in their study “Names Make a Difference,” argue that racial discrimination represents a significant obstacle for employees. Having sent out 6,200 resumes with similar qualifications to temporary employment agencies, the authors found that those with names associated with the Latino and white communities received callbacks more frequently than those presumed to be African American or South Asian/Arab American (called back the least frequently).

Similarly, MIT professors Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan concluded that perspective applicants with “White sounding names” are 50 percent more likely to receive a callback after submitting a resume than were those with “Black sounding names.” They concluded that Whiteness was as much an asset as 8 years of work experience, demonstrating that race has a significant impact on one’s job future. In their study, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” the authors conclude, “While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African-American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data. Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability” (“Employers’ Replies to Racial Names” 2003).

In a society where those with “Black sounding” and “Muslim sounding” names receive call backs from perspective employments with 50% less frequency, this an opportunity to talk about systemic racism.

Continue reading @ When It Comes to Sports, Race Still Matters – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.