One Chef’s Social Experiment: Charge Minorities $12, White People $30

Maura Judki, Washington Post, March 2, 2018

Approach Tunde Wey’s lunch counter/sociology experiment at the Roux Carre market in New Orleans, and — if you’re white — you’ll have a decision to make. {snip}

If they’re a person of color, they pay $12. If they’re white, he’ll tell them they can either pay $12, or they can pay $30 — two and a half times the base price, which reflects the wealth disparity in New Orleans. He tells them the profits will be redistributed to people of color, but not as charity — just to any minority customers of his who want it, regardless of their income or circumstance.

“When I tell black folks what’s happening, 90 percent of them start laughing, like, ‘For real?’ They’re tickled,” he said. “White folks, there’s this blank — ” he paused and laughed, “— this blank look. They’re like, ‘Huh, okay.’”

Wey is familiar with that look. In 2016, he traveled across the country hosting a dinner series he called “Blackness in America.” He would cook a Nigerian feast for his guests and engage them in conversation about some of the most pervasive problems facing our country, such as racism, sexism and police brutality. Black guests found these discussions cathartic, while many white guests found them uncomfortable. “White folks or privileged folks are quick to try to find a solution, or ask for a solution, as opposed to sitting in the discomfort,” Wey told The Washington Post during one of the dinners.

The lunch counter, Saartj, is named after Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who was put on display in the early 1800s in Europe because of her large buttocks, and given the nickname “the Hottentot Venus.” {snip} Some black people tried to also pay the $30, saying that because they could afford it, they felt obligated to pay the higher price. (Wey would accept only $12 from people of color.) In the end, when Wey totals up the profits, he expects the customers who opted to receive money will get about $75 each. He says he is not keeping any profit for himself.

As for white customers: A handful of them immediately canceled the transaction and walked away. The remainder were faced with “this awkward moment where they have to make a choice” — and, importantly, they had to make that choice in front of Wey.

Initially, he expected that few white people would pay the $30.

“I thought, if given the chance to voluntarily give up privilege, folks would not because it is not in their interest,” he said. But he was wrong: So far, more than 80 percent of white customers have opted to pay the higher price, and Wey realized that he had been underestimating the power of social pressure.

“If I created the framework where I outline a problem that is indisputable, and I position you as an antagonist, and I give you a way to solve the problem tidily and be the hero — in the moment, anything other than the $30 choice becomes antisocial behavior,” he said. {snip}


{snip} Next in line was a white man who gladly paid the $30. When Wey talked to that man about his education, he said that he had gone to a prestigious school because his father gave him a loan, and that he had the well-paying job he has now because of that university.


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