Last year, an Oscar-winning movie made known to many of us what the “Green Book” was—a guidebook listing accommodations for the African American traveler during the days of Jim Crow segregation.
Today, I fear, we may need a “Green Book” for conservatives and Republicans.
Stephanie Wilkinson, co-owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, who last year had kicked out a White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and family simply for their political affiliation, recently defended and promoted that practice in a Washington Post op-ed. She compared it to Cracker Barrel barring Grayson Fitts, who advocates “the arrest and execution of LGBTQ people.” Citing the cases last year where other prominent Republicans, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and Mitch McConnell, were mobbed and driven out of restaurants, she wrote, “restaurants are now part of the soundstage for our ongoing national spectacle.” Amazingly, she complained that “the business involved inevitably comes under attack.” Those inclined to “scold owners and managers” and express dismay at the loss of a perceived “politics-free zone” should just get used to it.
Wilkinson can deny that she approves of the next step—physical assault—by cheering the fact that there has been more support for Cracker Barrel’s actions than for those of the server who spit in the face of Eric Trump recently. Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who criticized Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and her call for mob action—namely, forming “a crowd” and “push[ing] back” on all Trump Administration members at restaurants, gas stations, and department stores—can claim to be above the fray. In truth, however, mild statements of disapproval, are lost in the tsunami of actions against conservatives by businesses ranging from advertisers on the Tucker Carlson show, movie producers in Georgia, and censors on social media.
I take Stephanie Wilkinson’s exclusion policy personally, though. Lexington is the place of my overnight stays during my frequent drives to Atlanta.
As I decide where to have dinner, I have the uncomfortable thought: that there is a restaurant in Lexington where people with my political views are not welcome. The idea is so foreign to me. I spent several years supporting myself waiting on tables and tending bar in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, it was “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” or no service only for drunkenness, fighting, or nonpayment of a check.
It is also troubling to me, given that I fled tyranny in the arms of my parents from Communist Yugoslavia. I grew up hearing their stories about political oppression. Imagine what it feels like to see things that resemble those stories in this country.
I have faced discrimination in academia. The “American dream” is to work your way up, right? I was “outed” as a conservative when the topic of my dissertation failed to advance the Marxist gender/race/class line contemporary English departments demand. As an adjunct instructor, I was expected to join in group conversations during the 2004 Democratic presidential primary speculating about who could beat the evil George W. Bush. My silence outed me. After I wrote columns, I was told that suddenly no more classes would be available for me to teach the following semester.
But back in 2004, it would never have occurred to me that such discrimination would occur outside of academia, that I could be legally discriminated against in restaurants.
It gives me little comfort that I am not easily recognizable like Sarah Sanders. Wilkinson has broadcast to the world that my kind are not welcome in her trendy establishment, a place that dare not refuse service to someone because of race. She feels righteous, claiming her actions are as justified as refusing service to someone who openly advocates murder.
Would I feel comfortable in Wilkinson’s restaurant? What if a server overheard me expressing my political views? If I made a reservation, would staff Google my name? I might not get the boot, but would I have my food spit in, or worse? No doubt, other restaurant owners are taking note, and I wonder: how do other Lexington restaurateurs feel? Do they also not want my business? What about the hotel where I stay?
Where this will end? Will conservatives be excluded next from grocery stores and hotels (as Maxine Waters would have it)? Will we be forced to sleep in our cars when traveling? It is hard to imagine this happening, but we now have those who feel no shame in openly advocating it. The inconceivable has happened in my lifetime—in a “free country.”
The ironic thing is that I support the concept of farm-to-table restaurants. I am a regular customer of the organic farmers who come here on the village square in Clinton, New York. I am against tax-subsidized corporate farming—something started by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am opposed to it because it led to the near-starvation of many black farmers and tenant farmers who were excluded from Roosevelt’s New Deal subsidies. Yet, African Americans had to pay the higher taxes and inflated prices for these programs. It also bears repeating that it was a Democrat president, Woodrow Wilson, who imposed segregation in the federal workforce. His protégée, Franklin Roosevelt, continued the policies even as he wooed black voters with “relief” payments instead of jobs and denied black children afflicted with polio the opportunity to use his Warm Springs facility while his wife posed with them for campaign photo-ops.
Barack Obama took up FDR’s mantle and was even portrayed in a way that evoked his image on the cover of a prominent magazine. His proposed federal regulation of small farmers who sold at public markets was met with a letter of protest from a farmer who sold organic produce from his five acres at such markets throughout the Atlanta area where I was living. Under President Trump, businesses, including farm-to-table establishments, are thriving.
Breaking bread is a way for people to come together. Having a meal should not be a political act. Yet, liberals and the Democratic National Committee, beginning in 2015, encouraged “conversations” with family members over Thanksgiving dinner to point out how benighted they are to vote Republican. Now it’s OK to kick Republicans out of restaurants and your family gatherings.
Charles Murray, the author of Coming Apart, who is much vilified on our liberal campuses, could write an updated version of his book based on the new levels of exclusion that go beyond zip codes to businesses run by self-righteous, intolerant, well-to-do liberals. If we are “divided” as a nation as many say, it is not because of conservatives or what our president says. It is because of people like Wilkinson.
The Red Hen is off my places to patronize, no doubt to the pleasure of Stephanie Wilkinson. I am one person, without much financial clout.
So were the African Americans riding the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. The time has come for conservatives, and all Americans who value the freedom of association and policies of non-discrimination, to take a page out of the playbook of that boycott and others like it. This isn’t a fight that conservatives started, but it is one we must win. The branding, exclusion, and assaults must stop.
Photo credit: TKTKTKTK