Late last week, Michael Brown and 24 of his friends and family met at a Charleston, South Carolina restaurant for a farewell party for his cousin. After waiting about two hours for a table, a shift manager at the Wild Wing Cafe told the party to leave. Did I mention these folks were black? Oh, well, they were black. And why weren’t they getting seated?

According to the shift manager, it was because a white patron felt “threatened” by the group, and the manager felt obliged to respect this woman’s delusion by keeping the black diners waiting in the lobby before ultimately kicking them out.

Cue the Chief Justice: “Things have changed in the South.”

Seriously though, so far this ordeal has elicited calls for a boycott, but legal action has been mostly overlooked, which is odd since the story brings back memories of one of the biggest discrimination suits of the last 20 years…

All things considered, the manager was very upfront about the discrimination, which is admirable because pretexts are for the weak:

‘She said there’s a situation where one of our customers feels threatened by your party, so she asked us not to seat you in our section, which totally alarmed all of us because we’re sitting there peaceably for two hours,’ Brown explained to WCSC. ‘Obviously, if we were causing any conflict, we would have been ejected out of the place hours before.’

As Brown and the shift manager were talking, a member of his party began videotaping the conversation, which is when the manager became upset and refused to seat the group.

‘I asked her I want to be clear with you,’ Brown told the station. ‘I said so you’re telling me I have to leave. She said I have a right to deny you service. I said so you’re asking me to leave because you’re upset because he was recording you, after we’ve waited for two hours, and after you’ve already pretty much discriminated on us, and she answered yes.’

For the record, this is reason no. 378 why libertarianism makes no sense. The manager invoked her free market right to deny service. When confronted with systemic racial animus, libertarians resort to the canard that, barring any legal Jim Crow barrier (as Richard Epstein notes), free markets will not discriminate. But they do. Like here, where someone actually turned down the business of 25 customers to satisfy 1.

A further-going libertarian might suggest that the correct course is to boycott the establishment to force change. That could shake the shift manager’s corporate overlords into action, because no major company would court an economic and public relations nightmare. A boycott is being threatened via social media in this case. How did the company respond?

WCSC-TV reports that a representative at the chain reached out to Brown to apologize and offer a free meal for the group.

The classic TANSTAAFLUYNDAF.[1]

The fact of the matter is that laws need to exist to police discriminatory behavior because the fact that it’s “not rational” fails to solve the problem on its own. Maintaining prejudice is more important to a lot of people than missing out on a few transactions. Enter lawsuits.

It took a federal civil right action in the 1990s to address a prior spate of behavior like what happened at the Charleston Wild Wing (not to be confused with Buffalo Wild Wings).[2] Stepping into the WABAC machine and returning to the early 1990s, when the Cyrus family was better known for country music than twerking, another restaurant chain — also headquartered in South Carolina — had a pesky discrimination problem of its own:

In one instance, a black Federal judge from Houston and his wife who had been traveling for 18 hours said they were forced to wait at a Denny’s in Yreka, Calif., for almost an hour as white teen-agers taunted them and referred to them as “niggers.”

In another case, six black Secret Service agents assigned to President Clinton’s detail were refused a table at a Denny’s in Annapolis. Md., while their white Secret Service colleagues were seated and served.

For more than three years Denny’s, a subsidiary of Flagstar Companies of Spartanburg, S.C., has been the target of growing complaints that its restaurants segregated blacks or required them to pre-pay or make various payments not required of white patrons.

Deval Patrick, then with the DOJ, spearheaded federal class-action suits and, as a result, Denny’s ended up settling for $54 million. Today, everyone can enjoy a Moon Over My Hammy regardless of race or creed.

Michael Brown may want to reach out to the DOJ, or at least look into getting an attorney of his own. Social media is a powerful tool for organization, but it can’t replace some good ole fashioned litigation when it comes to getting companies to respect the gravity of their obligations to fellow human beings.

Wild Wing Cafe Kicks Out 25 African Americans After White Customer Felt ‘Threatened': Report [Huffington Post]
25 African-Americans thrown out of South Carolina restaurant after a white woman complained of feeling ‘threatened’ [Daily Mail]
Denny’s Restaurants to Pay $54 Million in Race Bias Suits [New York Times]


[1] There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch unless you’re nakedly discriminated against first.
[2] Speaking of Buffalo Wild Wings, have you ever wondered why they’re called “BW3″ even though there’s obviously only two Ws in the name? Well, it used to be Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, but they dropped the latter delicacy — which was dumb, because Weck is good.


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