A restaurant in New Orleans charged white customers an extra $18 in order to raise awareness about the “racial wealth disparity.”
The restaurant, Saartj, was a temporary, quick-serve lunch counter launched by Nigerian chef Tunde Wey that closed on March 4. Due to the venture’s success, he plans to reopen the pop-up shop in Detroit from April 29 to May 5.
White patrons at Saartj were presented with two options: pay $12 for lunch or a suggested $30. The extra $18 would later be redistributed to a black customer.
Seventy-eight percent of white customers chose to pay the extra fee, Mr. Wey said, citing white guilt as a key factor.
“Refusing to pay more comes off as anti-social and people don’t want to be judged for that,” Mr. Wey told Civil Eats. “People look on the other side of the till and see me standing there and they’re thinking that I’m judging them.”
Mr. Wey said white people frequently asked, “Where does the additional money that I’m paying go?”
He said this reveals a mistaken tendency on the part of white people to perceive their wealth as justly acquired.
“The ownership of wealth has been contingent on taking from someone else,” the chef said, “and money doesn’t distill virtue on you.”
When prompted to take the extra money, 76 percent of black customers refused.
“A lot of the Black folks said, ‘I don’t need that money, give it to someone else who needs it,’” Mr. Wey said.
According to pre-meal surveys, a majority of Saartj diners had household incomes of about $65,000, while the median household income in New Orleans is $39,000.
Mr. Wey said the experiment’s results may have been different in a more economically diverse neighborhood.
Households headed by Asians have the highest median income in the United States at $77,900, according to data published in 2016 by the Pew Research Center. The white median household income is $71,300, while the median black and Hispanic household incomes are about $43,300.