Home / News / Columns / Eating while black. What Applebee’s incident can teach us

Eating while black. What Applebee’s incident can teach us

It made me very uncomfortable this week to watch the video of two black women defending themselves after being accused of theft at the Applebee’s at Independence Center. I’m not just uncomfortable but also sad. And angry. And, well, angry.

By Dwight Widaman, Editor

If you are not familiar with the story, two diners at the Independence Center Applebee’s were confronted by a manager, a mall security guard and an Independence police officer. The women were asked to pay their bill, leave and never return to the restaurant. They had been accused of being the same two women who had “dined and dashed” the evening before, leaving the restaurant to foot the bill for their meal.

One of the accused women, Alexis Brison of St. Louis, began filming the encounter mid-way through and it makes you queasy to watch.

Now, I’m not a restaurant manager, nor a police officer nor am I black. But you don’t have to be any one of those to understand one thing. Something was just not right.

Did the restaurant staff make some horribly wrong assumptions leading up to this confrontation? Yes. First they assumed that the previous night’s culprits would return to the scene of the crime and repeat their scheme–highly unlikely. Secondly, they assumed they needed armed protection from the two women once confronted. That’s why they called the Independence Police as back-up for the mall security guard. Third, they gave a very broad description that could have fit millions upon millions of black women—“a SKINNY girl and a girl who wore MAKEUP.” Not sure how that one works.

It makes me wonder how I would feel if accused of something similar. How would this skinny balding old guy feel? I actually dined there with Anita and Emma in the days leading up to Christmas. I would feel pretty awful. Horribly embarrassed. I would want to crawl in a hole.

No doubt, that is how these two women felt.

The women believe they were racially profiled which the restaurant denies. The restaurant in a statement says they found no indications that the store’s action was racially motivated. That may be true and I can believe that. I would find it hard to believe that the Applebee’s manager set out that morning to embarrass and run off two black customers who were quietly enjoying a meal. But racially motivated and racially profiled are two different things. Were the actions racially motivated? Probably not. Were the women racially profiled? Umm…yes.

Not just the black community should be upset by this story. We should all be upset. They were only guilty of “eating while black.” Why two black women could not finish their meal undisturbed but instead are asked to pay and leave because two black women had dined and dashed the night before is beyond belief.

The manager and two other Applebee’s staff have been fired over this episode. The restaurant is also closed for a few days.

To some this may seem like a small injustice or small justice. For others it may be reason to march and protest.

Is it not at least possible to find some middle ground? Accept it was wrong, ask for forgiveness and change some policies so it doesn’t happen again.

I don’t have all the answers. Let me rephrase that. I most likely don’t have ANY answers to the questions of racial equality, justice and pain that so many of my fellow Americans live with every day. I wish I did.

When I look in the eyes of my friends and acquaintances who are black, I realize I can never see the world with their eyes–through their experiences. And, let’s be honest. They don’t look in my eyes and expect me to ever experience the world and its injustices in the same way they have–and do.

But, through relationship, we are looking in each other’s eyes. And, that’s a start.