OP-ED: The reality of everyday racism

Kiki Monifa
Tribune News Service
Marcus Riley, one of the men who was at Buffalo Wild Wings of Naperville on the night of the alleged racist incident, speaks about incident during a press conference at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aurora, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. At right is Justin Vahl who was also at the restaurant. (Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune/TNS)

It’s hard not to be reminded, on a daily basis, that racism in America is alive and well.

One recent instance to make the news took place on Oct. 26 at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near Chicago. A group of about 20 family members and friends, including several children, were approached by an employee who purportedly asked group member Justin Vahl, “What race are you?”

When Vahl asked the relevance of this information, he says another employed explained, “We have a regular customer here who doesn’t want to sit around black people.”

Vahl’s wife posted an account of the incident, including a photo of the back of the customer who complained. It went viral, an attorney was retained and a press conference was held.

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Buffalo Wild Wings fired the two employees. “We take this incident very seriously,” a company spokesperson said. “Buffalo Wild Wings values an inclusive environment and has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

The company also promised sensitivity training for its employees.

But for some black people, the most surprising thing about the incident is that anyone was surprised by it.

“Why is everyone so shocked by the racial incident at Buffalo Wild Wings?” asked Dahleen Glanton, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. “This sort of thing happens every day.”

I agree. As a 62-year-old black woman who grew up in the South, I can remember the signs explicitly stating “Whites only” or “No coloreds.”

Now, in 2019, I live in Oakland, Calif., a liberal progressive community, and I travel extensively in the United States.

In my opinion, the “signs” are still there. They are no longer openly posted, but in any public place they are still apparent.

It may be a glaring look by an employee or a customer. It may be me being invisible in a line and seeing a white person who arrived after me being waited on first. It may be witnessing white folks recoil in an elevator when a black man walks in. It may be witnessing white folks literally cross the street to avoid walking by a black person.

It happens every day, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

I am not asked my race, but I am sometimes asked about my nationality or the origins of my government name, Akilah Monifa. And while I am pleased with the emergence of sensitivity trainings, and increased awareness about diversity and inclusion in response to racist incidents, clearly it’s not enough.

Such training should occur as part of new employee training and recur on an annual basis, at a minimum.

Additionally, all places of business should have a sign posted in multiple languages: “We value inclusiveness and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind on any basis.”

And then they should act like it.

— Kiki Monifa of Oakland, Calif., is editor-in-chief of This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.