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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Here’s the real reason why we’re obsessed with serial killers

When Bundy was sentenced, the judge said this to him, “It’s a tragedy to see such a total waste, I think, of humanity that I have experienced in this court. You’re a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer.”

Imagine, a man charged with raping, torturing, kidnapping, and killing girls in the most sadistic ways, being appraised for his potential.

Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Infamous serial killers, and all white men. The media has had a long affair with these men and many more like them. In their crucifixion and admonishment, there has been a glamorization and romance. There are many other serial killers of other races with far more gruesome escapades, yet even in the most disturbing of places, whiteness prevails.

Black serial killers do not have the shield of whiteness to veil their depravities.

The pervasiveness of white supremacy can be seen in the way these names are dug up, year in and year out, to yield a gross profit, as groups of young girls buy their merchandise, and fawn over their mug shots on social media. Even as the darkest parts of humanity are shown, the power of whiteness gives men like Charles Manson, Ed Kemper, and David Berkowitz followings and movie deals.

[Image description: Zac Efron in Ted Bundy movie, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile"] via Netflix
[Image description: Zac Efron in Ted Bundy movie, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”] via Netflix
In 2019, when Zac Efron, a certified Hollywood heartthrob, was cast to play Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, people could not wait to see a biopic about a man who devastated countless families.

Although the movie was marketed as a means to understanding Bundy, it did nothing but revive his legacy. I bet Ted Bundy is throwing a party in his grave, proud that even after all this time his mediocrity has skyrocketed to ‘mastermind’ using his whiteness as fuel for his ascendancy to a cultural juggernaut.

Zac Efron’s performance did nothing to educate or provide insight into the monster Bundy was.

He merely bolstered the murderer’s star.

He was painted as a suave, intelligent mastermind who outsmarted the cops. They painted him like Joffrey in Game of Thrones: the villain you love to hate. Except this is not fiction, this is reality. They made an endearing character and cemented a legacy of Bundy fanatics for the new generation.

If Bundy had been a Black man, his name would rot in a file somewhere. No-one would mention him, praise him or fawn over him. Yet a white man got away with driving his broken-down car up and down highways looking for girls and has been immortalized on the big screen. Ted Bundy is not exceptional; he is a mundane white man sensationalized by a hegemonic society which he sat atop of.

In a 2005 study called African-Americans and Serial Killing in the Media: The Myth and the Reality, the researcher, Anthony Walsh, commented on the under-representation of Black serial killers in the media.

He found that because their victims were also Black and as such, there is little to no media interest. When Black people – especially women – go missing or are found dead, no-one seems to care. This is evident in the 75,000 missing Black girls in the USA who went by largely uninvestigated in 2019.

I bet Ted Bundy is throwing a party in his grave.

The term ‘missing white woman’ syndrome was coined by the late Gwen Ifil, where missing young white women are mainstream media’s focus fascination, affliction, and Achilles’ heel. This is what makes a high-profile missing person case: simply cast a young, attractive, middle-class, white woman and boom, a media sensation. White women are the only victims seemingly worth the airtime, resources, and energy.

Yet, they only make up a third of missing victims.

Black serial killers are not given attention because nobody cares about their victims. The lack of representation of Black serial killers leads to police not adequately protecting potential victims of Black would-be murderers. It also leads to a lack of academic research, leading to a gap in the psyche of a Black or non-white serial killer.

Walsh’s study also highlighted that, within the White domain, it is believed that a Black person does not have the psychological complexity to carry out multiple murders and not get caught. However, between 1945 – 2004, there were 413 serial killers, 90 of which were black.

Ted Bundy’s whiteness has allowed him to benefit from the media as his popularity is far from waning. America’s deep anti-blackness, anti-other has created a fertile ground for even monsters like Bundy to plant seeds for a legacy to grow into a tree of fanatics.

[Image description: Serial killer Jarvis Catoe looks at his hands.] via
[Image description: Serial killer Jarvis Catoe looks at his hands.] via
Black serial killers get attention only when they murder outside of their race. In Pre-World War II, Jarvis Catoe went under the radar while he murdered Black women, but in 1941, when he switched his pattern to white women he was arrested.

Between 1945 – 2004, there were 413 serial killers, 90 of which were black.

The media may fear being branded racist if they hone in on Black men the way they do other serial killers. This is unfounded as the media has largely been plagued by social activists who have accused them of racist overtones due to the paradoxical differences when reporting Black and white crimes.

Black serial killers do not hold the same appeal, hence why shows like Dexter, Mindhunter, and Criminal Minds afford almost no reference to them. Black serial killers do not have the shield of whiteness to veil their depravities.

Only in White America could this happen.

This is seen time again and again when white men are given lenient sentences for rape, or sexual misconduct. Their whiteness automatically bestows upon them the benefit of the doubt.

As we continue to discuss race and attempt to root it out of our society, we must remember white privilege lies even in the deepest darkest places you never want to look into. Even our obsession with serial killers is ultimately a result of white supremacy.

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