Red Hen

Red Hen Incident reminds us of the wisdom of Michelle Obama’s words – “When they go low, we go high”

Is it understandable that the frustration of living in a world with the duplicity of Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others would want us to lash out? Of course, it is. But is it time for us to throw away our principles and good manners in expressing our anger? Hopefully not.

But that is what happened at the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, VA last Friday night when Sarah Sanders and her party of eight chose to eat dinner there. In a surprisingly democratic fashion, the owner and staff of the restaurant collectively chose to ask Sanders and her party to leave. [for full details, click here].

“I said, ‘I’m the owner,’ ” she [Stephanie Wilkinson] recalled, ” ‘I’d like you to come out to the patio with me for a word.’ ”

They stepped outside, into another small enclosure, but at least out of the crowded restaurant.

“I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion,” Wilkinson said. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.

“I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.’ ”

There was none of the venom that might have come from right-wing extremists who express outright hate towards many who do not agree with them. But what Stephanie Wilkinson and her employees did reeked of the same level of discrimination and even intolerance as the bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In 1964, the United States Congress passed legislation that guaranteed public accommodation rights for all consumers. It was a judgment call, one that was long overdue. In a nutshell, what the legislation said on the subject was that the interests of the consumers, the customers, outweigh those of the business owners. Yes, there is loss in this decision. Owners lose some of the power that they previously enjoyed. But their sacrifice meant that African-Americans, other minorities, in fact all Americans and even global citizens were entitled to public rights in private businesses. They were guaranteed the right to be served, with a few restrictions related to the customer’s behavior, not their standing or status.

Many people who own businesses or even are employees may from time-to-time wish that they could discriminate against a certain class of people. It’s human nature; we don’t love everyone equally. But in the United States, and now most of the industrialized world, we recognize that civility in a culture requires us to respect the rights of all customers. Civility is the price we may and the element that defines living in a democracy.

I would like to be generous and say that Stephanie Wilkinson and her fellow-workers had a brain cramp last Friday evening. It was a week in which the sense of loss that so many polite and sensitive people have felt from the actions of the Trump Administration, often expressed by Sanders, was wrenching. It was as if we all came to feel that we, too, are immigrants, which in fact we are.

Time to regroup. Time to apologize, as any of us should when we lose our cool. We should not act like Trump, Sanders, Fox News, Steve Bannon and many more who never acknowledge a mistake, or even the possibility of a mistake. We have a better understanding of human behavior and the power of language. We must remind ourselves of Michelle Obama’s words, “When they go low, we go high.”