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Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2002 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

In the racial Twilight Zone -- My friend works in a restaurant. Where is not important.

My friend is white. That shouldn't be important, either, but in this case her race and the race of everybody involved seems to be relevant.

Here is what happened: A few weeks ago, a couple walks into the restaurant where my friend works.

The couple is black.

My friend seats them, which is her job, and a waiter comes over to their table to take their drink orders.

The waiter is white.

A few moments later, the woman at the table summons my friend.

My friend asks if there is a problem.

"Yes," the woman says. "We want a black waiter."

At first, my friend thinks she has heard wrong.

"I'm sorry?" she says.

"A black waiter," the woman says. "We want a black waiter."

My friend, who has worked in restaurants for some time, knows what she is supposed to do if someone says he doesn't want a black waiter to wait on him.

"We are instructed to tell the person that all our waiters are qualified and it is against the law for us to discriminate against a person based on his race," my friend told me.

But nobody has ever told my friend what to do if the customers are black and they don't want a white waiter.

"I just assumed it would be the same," my friend said. "I just assumed that if we wouldn't do it to a black waiter, we wouldn't do it to a white waiter."

My friend could have asked the woman why she wanted a black waiter, I suppose, but my friend has been trained not to argue with patrons. She has been trained to try to make the customer as satisfied as possible.

But, my friend figured, you had to draw the line somewhere.

Still, my friend hesitated before she told the woman that her request could not be honored.

"I will talk to the manager," my friend told the woman.

And my friend did. She told the manager exactly what had happened. She expected the manager to come to the same conclusion she had come to: You can't assign waiters based on race.

But her boss was silent.

"It's the same as if a white couple asked for a white waiter, isn't it?" my friend said. "I mean we don't do that, right?"

Finally, her boss spoke. "Give them a black waiter," he said.

"What?" my friend said.

"We don't need trouble," he said. "If they want a black waiter, just give them a black waiter. Don't make a fuss."

My friend hesitated -- she thought this was all wrong -- but in the end she went along.

What was she supposed to do? Quit? Nobody quits a job these days unless she or he has another job lined up.

And was it really worth quitting over?

My friend is sure there is some principle involved here, but she is not sure what she should have done.

In any case, she sent a black waiter over to wait on the couple, and that was that. No more was said, and there was no fuss.

But my friend is still very upset with what happened.

"It just wasn't right," she said.

I told this story to two other friends, and their reaction was interesting.

A white friend said: "Maybe the couple had been discriminated against by white waiters in the past. Or maybe they felt restaurants would hire more black waiters if people requested black waiters. You don't know. You should not judge that couple without knowing more."

A black friend said, "I think that couple was nuts."

No generalities should be drawn from either reaction. They are the reactions of two individuals, and I mention their race only because race is relevant to this story.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate