Race Money Now + Beyond

The origins of tipping at American restaurants are rooted in racism

In the United States, it’s a common custom within the service and hospitality industry to tip waged workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers in the US is $2.13, compared to the main federal minimum wage which is $7.25, and has remained just short of two dollars for many decades.

People have been critical of the exploitative practice of tipping for years. The critiques mostly surround corporations utilization of tipping to legally get away with paying their workers an unlivable wageEssentially, customers are responsible for paying restaurant worker’s wages through tips.

And although tipping is optional, many Americans view not tipping service workers as rude or unethical due to their low wages. The other spectrum of people’s critiques simply highlights how grossly low and unethical paying individuals $2.13 is.

Restaurant workers are more likely to live below the poverty line than the general population, and that likelihood increases depending on things like race and gender. Activists have been trying to raise the minimum wage for hourly workers for decades. The Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, would additionally raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in almost three decades.

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory.

The stagnation of wages for tipped workers is itself abhorrent and a clear illustration of how predatory capitalism is on lower-income and working-class people. Workers’ wages being reliant upon (optional) tips from customers, rather than a guaranteed right from million or billion-dollar corporations is unethical. However, upon an even deeper examination into the custom of tipping in the US, its history is more corrupt than most know. 

Tipping actually originated in “medieval times as a master-serf custom wherein a servant would receive extra money for having performed superbly well,” Rachel E. Greenspan explains in an article for TIME. In the mid-1800s, wealthy Americans discovered the concept of tipping after travels to Europe and brought the custom to the states in order to seem dignified and well-traveled. 

The custom stuck in the Post Reconstruction Era, after slavery “ended,” as a way to opt-out of paying Black people who were now looking for work. Restaurants would pay Black workers little to nothing and forced them to rely on (optional) tips from white clientele, which “entrenched a unique and often racialized class structure in service jobs, in which [Black] workers must please both customer and employer to earn anything at all,” says Dr William J. Barber II in an article for Politico. Thus, legally continuing the practice of slavery but in a re-imagined way.

The custom was nationally unpopular for a while and only a custom done in the South because many people felt forcing customers to tip was condescending and classist. People thought it cruel to suggest poor people should give an additional amount of money on top of their bill. As a result, some states even made laws against the practice.

Additionally, tipping was thought to be a concept reserved only for Black workers, whereas white workers deserved to be fairly paid for their work. However, as Black people began moving north for economic opportunity and to escape segregationist laws, the custom of tipping followed, becoming the national standard within the US’s restaurant industry.

It’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.”

Fast forward to today, conversations (or arguments) surrounding the ethics of tipping at American restaurants occur often on social media between wait staff and restaurant workers and restaurant-goers. I’ve always found these discussions to be futile because the ethics of greedy corporations are never questioned, which in turn produces no real, systemic change for waged workers.

Rev. Dr William J. Barber II further states in his article, “We may live in a very different society from 150 years ago, but the subminimum tipped wage still exacerbates the inequalities passed down from that time.”

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory. So, rather than people regularly arguing amongst each other on whether working-class people are responsible for paying the wages of other working-class people, we should be collectively challenging our government to pay us livable wages.

Although the history of tipping in America is racist, raising the federal minimum wage benefits all working-class people regardless of race. Thankfully, an organization of restaurant industry leaders called Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment (RAISE) was founded in 2019 to champion living wages, basic benefits, and fair promotion policies for waged workers in the restaurant industry.

In addition, wages for hourly workers reliant on tips are being raised in isolated policies across the states like in Michigan or Washington DC. However, there obviously needs to be a national standard that correlates with the cost of living in America.

With racism being examined so closely this year, it’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.” And instead, challenge or dismantle those norms to begin building an economy that equally serves all.

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Race Inequality

This is the real reason why I’m terrified to be a Black woman in America

I’m not going to shy away from the fact that being a person of color in America is hard. Being black in America can be dangerous, so keeping our guards up is normal for us.

I know that I can be disrespected day after day because of my skin color, and I won’t be able to fight back without being seen as the aggressor.

Like when I had bottle caps thrown at me at a local country bar (that I didn’t even want to go to), or getting violent stares thrown my way at the same bar.

Or when I’ve done an amazing job at work, and am still met with disrespect because I don’t look like everyone else or act like they expected you to.

I find that when racist people can’t use me for their personal benefit, they actively partake in tearing you down and making you feel like you don’t belong. This is nothing new to black people in America. We just learn to shrug it off, be confident, and love ourselves even more.

But when it comes to police violence, we can’t just shrug it off.

So, how does it feel to me, as a young black woman, watching police violence happen in America?

I feel angry and confused and often helpless. I feel angry at a system that equates the worth of our lives with how we dress.

I feel embarrassed having to watch how I present myself to the world because if I don’t, I could literally lose my life.

Hearing verdict after verdict in favor of a cop who has killed an unarmed Black person gives me constant anxiety that I don’t know how to deal with. No one teaches you how to live through these things. They just happen, so you just have to cope.

For the longest time, I internalized all that fear and anger until I began to lash out at people who tried to argue with me about it. No loss of life is ever okay, especially at the hands of those who are meant to protect us. How hard is that to understand?

I’ve been taught throughout my life that if someone in a position of power harasses you, your best option is to be quiet and wait it out politely so that you can make it out alive. For a while, I thought this made sense; why escalate a bad situation when you can just fight it out in court? But the court system is not built to help us.

We saw it clearly in the case of Philando Castille; you can be the kindest, polite, and law-abiding person in the world, and still be met with disrespect and eventually shot. You will still have every bad thing you’ve ever done displayed under a distorted microscope, and you will still be labeled as an aggressor.

This is why the idea of “color blindness” is bullshit; people of color can’t afford to be color blind in a world where we have to address our skin color every time we walk outside. We are forced to wonder how someone might treat us because of the way we look.

We do not have the luxury of being colorblind because that is not how people actually view us.

I, for one, am done with pretending that these negative encounters with the police have nothing to with negative racial stereotypes. When I’m driving and come to a stop next to a police officer, I refuse to make eye contact. Because I know there is a chance of being immediately seen as a criminal that is potentially breaking the law.

As a young black woman, this has caused serious damage to my psyche.

Living in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in America, I cannot afford to walk around without my guard up.

Two weeks ago, on my way home from work, I discovered flashing lights and blocked streets all around me. 

Terry Williams, during an attempt to evade the police, was killed two blocks away from my home in broad daylight. Later, I came across an interview with two young women who witnessed the harrowing event.

Yes, Terry Williams did try to get away from the police because he knew he’d be arrested. And yes, he potentially could have put people in danger. But none of that justified the cop’s actions. The officer in question put people in danger by shooting indiscriminately at a car on the busiest street in Milwaukee.

These witnesses were quickly labeled as “cop haters” just for speaking their truth. 

The pair just saw officers drag two injured and unarmed women out of William’s car by the hair and into the street. Their only crime was being friends with the victim. How could anyone defend this? What had they done to deserve being shot at, attacked, and detained in the street for hours? 

What makes me any different from these women? Nothing. 

And when I think about that, I can’t breathe. 

Trump supporters talk about their biggest fear in life being ISIS terror attacks. Well, the biggest fear in my life iracist non-Black individuals in the police force. These shootings have jaded my ability to trust; I take everyone I meet with a grain of salt and I find it safer to keep to myself. I know not everyone around me is a racist, but I can’t afford to take that chance anymore. I can’t trust you unless you show me that you are actively trying to help.

After all, what is safe to do while being Black in America? Current events show that answer is nothing.

Police violence brings out a hypervigilance in me that I didn’t even know I had. Moving to a different city isn’t an option, because what city is really safe from any of this? Racial injustices happen everywhere.

Any city in America could be the next Ferguson, so where am I truly safe?

Expressing our voices is the best way to deal with our tribulations, so whatever you choose to do, make sure that you choose to hear us.

Because we won’t keep quiet for anyone.

Politics The World

These Babson College frat bros messed with the wrong Wellesley women of color – because we fought back

After a night that can only be described as a horrific emotional roller coaster, Wellesley College students awoke to the first day of Trump. At approximately 1pm a large truck drove slowly through campus with a Trump flag flying off its back, harassing students. The two men in the truck went to the house for students of African descent, rode around campus yelling at students, and spit towards a student when asked to leave. The two men turned out to be Edward Tomasso and Parker Rander-Riccardi, students at Babson College, a neighboring college. 

These men have been called out on social media, in a post by a Wellesley student that has gone viral. How were we able to identify them? Well, that’s the golden question and the key to surviving in Trump’s America. Wellesley students, current and former, mobilized around the country. Students looked up their license plate and found one identity, which led to finding the other. 

These men came to our campus. They sought us out. They came to our space in a purposeful effort to make us feel unsafe. But we found them.

We found their gloating snapchat.


We found them and made it public. Made them public. We called their employers, the national board of their frat, their class dean. We made it clear that this is unacceptable behavior. Their college, their peers made it clear that they do not stand for racism.


We’ve seen stories from around the country of women being beaten and their hijabs being torn off, of students yelling racial slurs at each other across the nation, and people literally heiling Hitler. But here’s what’s important to remember – this is not Trump’s America, this is our America. The majority of our country did not vote for Trump. The majority of our country is not white supremacist (but far too many are). 

When someone attacks you or your friend, when you see someone being attacked, when you hear people screaming racial slurs – record it, take pictures of their faces and license plates. Expose them. Our President-Elect is a racist, but we can stand up for each other.

When something happens, we will look up license plates, share photos, and contact employers. We will have your back. And I hope you’ve got ours – because without your support, nothing will change.

UPDATE 11/14: Many of you have reached out for updates, as well as sending me information on the two students. Here’s what we know so far:

Babson has yet to release information about Edward Tomasso and Parker Rander-Riccardi’s formal punishment, and it’s possible that due to confidentiality rules around student punishment, Babson might not ever publicly release their decision. Currently the two are on temporary leave, and are reportedly living at Tommaso’s house in Vermont. 

Edward Tomasso is the son of a powerful Babson Alum, and comes from a long line of Babson men with a complicated family history. The main building at Babson College is called Tomasso Hall. He released this apology on Facebook:


The Wellesley College Campus Police have thus far refused to describe this incident as racially motivated.

This screenshot of one of Tomasso’s previously public playlists was commented on his above apology.


Babson students, faculty, and staff have been very vocal about their abhorrence and anger about Edward Tomasso and Parker Rander-Riccardi and their actions. They are all fighting to make it clear that Edward and Parker’s actions are not reflective of the entire school.

One punishment Edward and Parker have received is being kicked out of their fraternity Sigma Epsilon. Students have reported that the Babson chapter of Sigma Epsilon currently has no non-white members. We know that these men not only felt the need to come into our community and harass students, but then they also filmed themselves gloating about it, which Edward posted on his snap story. This level of boldness seems to be indicative of some sort of community that consciously or unconsciously perpetuates racism and white supremacy.

Finally, the identification of these men brings up an important and all too relevant question – once we find these people, what do we do with them? First, I want to echo what Edward said in his post, he should not be getting death threats. Edward and Parker can be expelled from Babson but they cannot be expelled from society, especially when there are so many like them across our country. Can we have them take bias training, learn about structural oppression, donate to ACLU, or volunteer with an immigrant rights organization?

In order to really make a difference, too, we need you to hold them accountable – by helping us keep holding them to the fire.

These are the conversations we need to be having right away. This is how we prepare for the days and years to come.

And you can make sure you’re on the right side of history, by supporting us now.