A Fast Food Worker's Thoughts on Racism in Fast Food
Several months ago, before I was hired at my current job, I had an interview at a local Wendy's. It was open interview hours. I filled out the application and after a few minutes I was interviewed by an Assistant Manager. We'll call her 'Amanda' for now. The interview went well. We discussed my work experience and talked about the job.
Then Amanda asked me about my experience in racially diverse workplaces. I explained that most of my workplaces and schools growing up were very diverse and that it isn't a problem for me. She expressed her relief and told me that she asked because the staff at this store were “pretty ghetto” and that it had “been a problem before.” Awkward as her little bit of racial code language was, I smiled and moved on with the interview.
As we came to the end, Amanda told me she was going to recommend me to the store manager. She then put on a just-between-us face and added that because most of the Crew is black, she would really like to get me hired because “we could use some more white people around here.” She went on to tell me, “I think you could really bring some culture to this place.”
I ended up working at Burger King instead, but the Wendy's job was mine for the taking. It's hard to tell whether my whiteness is what made all that difference, but clearly it was a factor. Racism in the fast food industry (and in society as a whole) has two sides: the advantages of being white and the disadvantages of being a person of color.
In May of last year, ten fast food workers in South Boston, Virginia became a nationwide symbol of the latter side. They were fired from McDonald's with comments from management like “There are too many black people [working] in the store,” saying these workers “didn't fit the profile” management wanted, that stores were “too dark,” and that management “need to get the ghetto out of the store.” Female workers were also touched without their consent and sent inappropriate images. These workers contacted McDonald's corporate, and were told to take it up with the franchise management that had just fired them for the color of their skin. Ten of them have since filed a lawsuit.
The franchise system is one of the key pieces to the puzzle of profit in fast food. Not only does it allow for mitigated risk and cost management for the corporation, but it has also helped shield fast food corporations from their workers. Any problems are the franchise's problem, not the corporation's. But anyone who has ever worked in fast food knows that there is a brand uniformity and chain of command in the workplace that comes down from corporate, and the profits flow up to that same corporate level.
We work for them and we make them their money. These corporations care so deeply whether pickles go on before or after ketchup that they make the franchises fall in line. Apparently, racist discrimination in their stores is less important to them than the order of condiments.
Either way, it is the corporation's responsibility. If they just don't know how things are in the stores, then they are negligent and incompetent. If they do know and just don't care, then they are just criminal and racist. If McDonald's can fire those 17 people for no good reason and get away with it, it makes all of our jobs less secure.
Our fellow fast food workers have been standing up across the country to demand $15/hour and a Union in the fast food industry. And it is important to keep our eyes on the ball; living wages and a voice at work. But things - like these racist firings - are exactly what the union is for; to stand up to management whenever they try to screw us. We can't just wait until we win a union. We have to fight like a union now.
Here in Rochester, fast food workers and our community allies are going to hold a Rally this Friday the 27th at 5:00pm in front of the McDonald's store at 3280 Monroe Ave in Pittsford. We stand in solidarity with our brave fellow workers in South Boston. We stand in solidarity with all the applicants that 'Amanda' turned away for having less “culture” than I did. We stand in solidarity with the countless workers of color that bosses have ever discriminated against.
We ask you to stand with us.