Editorial: The obligation for businesses to fight racism
Anyone who's shocked at the racial targeting of a group of people celebrating at a Naperville restaurant hasn't been paying attention lately.
Just in the last few days, a Carpentersville man got a jail sentence for commenting that he should shoot "Mexicans" at a local store, a Des Plaines man was convicted of a hate crime for his threatening confrontation with a woman wearing a Puerto Rico T-shirt, and hate messages left in two dorms and a library caused Elmhurst College to close for two days.
Racism is on the rise by many measures, from an Anti-Defamation League tracking of racist rallies, demonstrations and propaganda efforts to a Pew Research Center survey showing most people think airing racist views has grown more common in recent years.
Challenging racist actions and statements, whenever it's safe to do so, is one way to show perpetrators their views are unacceptable and outside the norm.
But what about corporate citizens? That's in focus after 18 parents and kids, most of them black, were asked to change seats at a Naperville Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant because they were near a white frequent customer who an employee described as "racist," one member of the group, Mary Vahl, wrote in a Facebook post. No one has disputed Vahl's story, which involved one black employee who quit later that night, a restaurant spokesman said, and two others, one black and one white, who have been fired.
What's shocking is how readily the business and the employees, willing or not, were accommodating a customer who apparently had no problem making his unacceptable views known.
You'd think businesses would have clear policies against racist speech or actions, and would enforce them. You'd think they'd have clear guidelines for workers on handling unacceptable behavior by customers, fellow employees or managers. You'd think those policies would call for zero tolerance, including ways to report managers or bosses who allow a comfortable environment for racism to flourish.
You'd think so, but the situation the Vahls and their friends encountered shows it isn't so. The racist customer was banned only after the episode became public.
The Vahls, in a gracious statement during a news conference attended by the children whose celebration turned into a horribly memorable lesson in hate, called on businesses to take such steps. We echo that, not just for Buffalo Wild Wings but for all businesses.