Going out to eat has been a loaded issue for people of color for decades — so much so that between 1936 and 1966, the Green Book, a dining guide for people of color, was one of the most popular travel titles in America. It’d be nice to think that over the intervening fifty years everything has gotten better, but a quick glance at our society shows we still clearly have work to do.
A racially insensitive moment at a Maine IHOP this week both underscores the problem and shows that restaurants are getting better at confronting it.
The incident unfolded in Auburn, ME, which is off I-95 and one of the central traffic arteries in the state. A group of black teenagers was asked by a server, out of nowhere, to pay in advance, something another diner observed and posted a lengthy Facebook discussion over. Diners were informed that it was because teenagers, as a group, dined and ditched, not because of their race, but nobody was buying it. In reality, demanding customers pay in advance is such a common form of harassment, national chains have been dragged to court by the Justice Department over it.
This is especially pressing as Maine changes as a state. In recent years, the state has welcomed refugees and immigrants from several African nations. But it hasn’t been a smooth transition, especially after 9/11 and the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, has gotten intro trouble repeatedly for racially charged remarks, such as claiming the majority of drug dealers are black or Hispanic and that they come to Maine to impregnate residents.
Like it or not, race has been put front and center in the minds of many Mainers. Fortunately, the restaurant acted quickly:
This Thursday, the restaurant will close for a day as the staff takes a racial sensitivity training course. They won’t serve a single pancake and employees will be paid for their time.
Of course, a single day course can’t heal racial divides or repair a flawed mindset towards others. But too often, restaurants don’t confront these problems, or just try to write them off as a problem with the server, not their responsibility. It’s good to see IHOP quickly addressing the issue. The restaurant industry could stand to take up this practice more often.