“Ordering while black”: Confronting workplace discrimination

I work at a restaurant near campus and I am one of the only women who works in the evening; it is very rare that another woman is working with me. I have had this job for quite a while now and, for the most part, I have gotten used to the setting. There are often comments made about women who come in that get under my skin, but when I verbalize my feelings, I am told that I am too sensitive and that I need to learn to take a joke. Race is another topic that is talked about in a rather crude way. The “driving while black” phenomenon in our society is the idea that black individuals are more likely to get pulled over than other races solely because of the color of their skin. There is a similar phenomenon in the restaurant business that is more or less “ordering while black”. Most people who have worked in the restaurant business recognize that black customers are automatically stereotyped as too demanding, needy, or pushy when it comes to ordering food (this is not a personal opinion, there have been numerous articles on the subject); I see this stereotyping every day that I work.

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About a month ago a pair of customers came in to order food, they were both black. The woman asked me if we could scrape the grill because she wanted to order food, but it is against her religion to eat pork. Since I have seen my managers clean the grill upon request many times, I told her that it would not be a problem. She ordered her food and when my manager came to make it, I told him that she needed the grill cleaned. He told me no. I went on to explain that she could not eat pork because of her religion and he said that there was nothing he could do. I looked back at the woman appalled and she was appalled as well. I apologized to her and explained that I did not know about this. Both customers left the building quite upset.

After they left, I decided to confront my manager. I told him that I did not think it was right that he would not scrape the grill for her; after all, it only takes about thirty seconds and I have seen him do it many times. He told me that she was “doing too much” and that she would expect that kind of treatment every time she came in if he did it for her today. I said that she should expect that because of her dietary restrictions and that I did not see the issue. I was told that she was “too needy” and that “it’s not like a little piece of ham would have killed her.” I was shocked. This was someone’s religion we were talking about. When I tried to express how upset I was, my manager went on about how I was being too emotional again and that it is not my problem so I shouldn’t worry about it. He ended the conversation.

The whole incident still bothers me. Seeing that kind of blatant discrimination and not being able to stop it struck a major nerve with me. We talk a lot about the Social Change Model (SCM) in WILL and where we see it being applied. For me, I think about the SCM more when I do not see it being applied. When I am at work, I cannot help but think how much better the environment would be if everyone would take into account others’ feelings and beliefs. I really believe that more awareness of everyone around, including the customers, would make this store a much healthier and happier place to work. I have been trying to think of how to bring this up to higher management, but the whole situation is difficult. I have to do something; I can’t sit by any longer.

Abby Daffner is a senior Sociology major and a second-year WILLer. She can be reached at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

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