One thing to know about me is that I’m perpetually “behind” on my podcast listening. The number of podcasts I find interesting usually far outstrips the amount of time I can dedicate to listening to podcasts, so I’m always juggling what’s fresh in my mind with things I’ve saved from months ago.
All this to say, I just this weekend got to listening to an older Freakonomics podcast, Is It Okay for Restaurants to Racially Profile Their Employees?, which is pretty much about what it says on the package. There’s some fairly interesting discussion about what kinds of discrimination we “need to be worried about” (definitely the podcast’s words, not mine, and don’t represent my opinion) and the difference between the ethnic makeup of front of the house and kitchen staff at various restaurants.
One issue the podcast doesn’t address is the distinction Americans make, or don’t, between people who look like they could work in a Mexican or Japanese restaurant but are of diverse backgrounds (not many diners could distinguish between Mexican, Colombian, or Dominican, for example, or Japanese, Korean, and Chinese staff). Or, what if you’re Mexican but don’t “look” or “sound” like customers would expect? I think the argument that some of the commentators make about customer expectations really fails to acknowledge that “customers” aren’t a monolithic group and they don’t necessarily need to be pandered to at the cost of ethical considerations.
What really caught my attention and has been on my mind since Friday night, though, is the question that opened the podcast, which included the *delightful* phrase “… the Asians”. The questioner assumed that Asian restaurants were “getting away with” something that wouldn’t fly if “all-white” or “Americanized restaurant[s]” wouldn’t. To which I say, bullshit. Restaurants get away with that pretty regularly. My husband and I don’t eat out frequently, but we do eat out at sit down restaurants, and I eat out a lot when I travel (sometimes fast-casual, sometimes table services). And looking back on the last six months or so, almost every server we’ve had has been white.* Frankly, I didn’t even think about it until this podcast, but I do find it telling that the questioning that prompted the discussion was about the perceived inequity of a primarily Asian waitstaff, and I don’t think that inequity would have been or has been questioned in the cases of primarily white waitstaff.
* Two exceptions come to mind, and these were both fast food restaurants; the Dunkin’ Donuts in my neighborhood and the Jimmy Johns near the convention center in Boston. I do reserve the right to be corrected by my husband or other dining partners who may remember details I’ve forgotten.