Black Women Discriminated in the Restaurant Industry

Nowadays, who in the right mind is a clear-cut racist or sexist?

2021 doesn’t allow for that -- and nor should it.

Either you have a passion for being a sexist bigot, you have a genuine mental deficiency, or you have been in a coma for the past decade.

Point is, racism is not as blatant or commonplace as it was decades ago. The world has gotten better. But racism hasn’t vanished, it’s just gone undercover making it harder to pinpoint and call out.

Take the high-end restaurant industry in the U.S; a top-notch place reserved only for the best chefs.

What’s plaguing the high-end restaurant industry is covert discrimination against black females.

In these high-end restaurants, the n-word is not being flung around and women are not being referred to as female dogs - no, no, no - that wouldn’t happen in today’s world. Most people aren’t that brazen and moreover, comments like those would be too easy to call out.

It’s the ostensibly innocuous remarks; the jokes; the disapproving looks; and the dismal fact that the high-end restaurant industry is racist and sexist.

“As Black women we’re dealing with so much patriarchy and so much systemic racism,” says Tanya Holland, owner of her own restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, California.

Back when she was a line cook she recalls how the managers never let her advance from making salads to higher-status tasks despite her expertise and work ethic. “I’ve always sought mentorship and knowledge, and to have that denied is so disheartening”, she said.

But that’s the paradox: to advance positions, a chef of higher status needs to notice an aspiring chef and mentor them to promote them. This doesn’t usually happen with black women, and therefore they never ascend the ladder in these high-end restaurants.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nonprofit advocacy group for restaurant workers’ rights collected data on fine-dining restaurants in Seattle, Washington. They found that factors such as implicit bias among employers, co-workers, and customers, plus the lack of networking and training opportunities make it significantly harder for Black women to reach leadership positions in the fine-dining business.

It’s stressful and these black women should not have to deal with it.

Yet, another catch-22 in the fine-dining world is how black females cannot be too assertive yet too passive for the fear of confirming racist and misogynist stereotypes.

“If I came in and I wasn’t smiling, that makes me the ‘angry Black woman,’” she said. Or, during service, she recalled having to make her voice louder in order to stop fellow line cooks from reprimanding her for being too quiet when calling out “Oui!” when she had confirmed an order.

Nevertheless, black women are not giving up. Three years ago, Catina Smith, 34, founded ‘Just Call Me Chef’, a national organization for Black women in the restaurant business. Her mission is to unify black women and celebrate their talents, not focus on all the plight.

“We don’t want special treatment. We just want the opportunity,” Smith says.

High-end restaurants perpetuate racial discrimination masked by their poshness, yet it is not going unnoticed; black women such as Catina Smith and her organization are showing the world how black women can confront this is an uplifiting, mannered, and purposeful way.

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