I think it’s time to do something about the rampant racism in Miami’s restaurant industry.
Last week, the New Times reported that William Crandall, former chef de cuisine at Michael Mina’s steakhouse Stripsteak at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, had been spotted at a recent food event wearing a shirt and hat with Proud Boys logo, a group considered to be neo-racist and affiliated with the alt-right, news that went national. By Saturday, Crandall had resigned from his position, according to a hotel spokesman.
In defense of his attire, Chef Crandall told the New Times, “I thought it would be more discreet than wearing a Make America Great Again hat,” and went on to vehemently assert that “he would never support anything homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, or anything that promotes hate.”
While many people have rightfully denounced Crandall’s Proud Boy attire and all that it stands for, the leaders of our local industry are dismissive of less overt forms of racism that maintain the status quo, such as racialized hiring practices, derogatory language, and practical and verbal “jokes.”
Walk into any fine dining restaurant in Miami and you’ll see that the racial segregation of the workforce resembles the days of Jim Crow. Whites hold the best paying jobs in the dining room while blacks dominate the dirtiest and worst paying jobs in the kitchen.
As an anthropologist studying the problem of racism in Miami’s restaurant industry, I often ask restaurant workers why they think this is happening? In my research, I’ve found that black workers easily identify structural racism as the source of the problem, while white workers tend to normalize and defend the restaurant’s racial segregation.
Overwhelmingly, white workers, managers and owners fail to recognize that the same system that marginalizes blacks and creates racism, also creates advantages that privilege them. As a result, white workers in positions of power have little incentive to address racial inequality and push back against the topic. This resistance protects their social status in the racial hierarchy, reinforcing and reproducing systemic racism. The recent rise of alt-right groups and anti-Semitism rightfully horrify us and rock us to our core. However, these events should not give us a false perception that racism manifests itself solely in extreme and overt ways such as white male chefs wearing Proud Boy attire.
We must acknowledge that racism is built into the day-to-day culture of our restaurant industry and that it is collectively our problem, not just the problem of others. The oppressive structures of racism promote additional social inequality in the form of sexism, homophobia, and ableism. These issues come with a huge cost to the industry, such as high turnover rates, increased substance abuse, and increased health risks for diners, all of which lower profits and impact the bottom line.
Racism impedes the life outcomes of many of our workers who are the backbone of our industry, ensuring that they can only go so far, or make so much.
In Miami, these workers are the people whose foods, heritage and culture we celebrate and embrace as part of our multi-cultural identity that makes us “so Miami”. What a travesty it is, that we promote our destination as culturally diverse and inclusive, when in reality, we are almost as segregated as we were 50 years ago. Author James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It is time for us collectively to face our complicity in maintaining the racialized culture of our restaurant industry, so we can finally do something about it.
For starters, owners and managers need to have some courageous conversations with marginalized workers about racial inequality and how it impacts their lives. Anti-bias training must become as commonplace as sexual harassment training, and our hospitality schools and colleges must teach about social inequality and how to remedy it. If we can courageously take a look at where we are and how we got here, together we can figure out how to undo some of this racism.
Judith Williams is a PhD candidate at Florida International University’s Department of Global and Sociocultural.