Last Tuesday, two executives from McDonald’s filed a lawsuit against the company for racial discrimination.  Victoria Guster-Hines and Domineca Neal have cited that 31 of the company’s 37 black executives have been either demoted or laid off in a move to force black employees out of upper management.  Their claims have been further supported by diversity initiatives from past years focussing solely on gender, not race, and comments from former CEO Steve Easterbrook that the “numbers [of African American executives] don’t matter].”  Furthermore, they claim that in an effort to further push the “sleek, modern” aesthetic in newly remodeled locations, black franchisees and customers alike were swept aside.  

McDonald’s official response has been a typical, corporate, “We’ll look into it” kind of non-commital acknowledgement of the situation. 

McDonald’s history of race relations has been complicated to say the least.  McDonald’s drive-ins across the South were often the location of sit-ins in the early 1960s, with some facing more violent backlash from white counter-protesters than others. And when the dust finally started to settle in the aftermath of race riots in 1968, McDonald’s decided to do some damage control by offering franchising opportunities to black business owners.  This move worked like a charm, as these new franchises opened in predominantly black neighborhoods that white franchisees previously refused to operate in, and the notion of “supporting black business” in those communities, regardless of whether or not Mcdonald’s was actually doing anything for the community, brought in record profits. 

In the decades that followed fast food would become more and more ingrained in these communities, often becoming an afterschool hangout for local youths.  Think the coffeeshop from Friends, but not gentrified. In many cases, these neighborhoods would otherwise be complete food deserts, making McDonald’s many people’s only choice for sustenance, resulting in an obesity epidemic that the fast food industry as convinced society is the fault of poor parenting.    

Is that to say that McDonald’s is only ever interested in tearing these communities apart for the sake of profit?  Not necessarily. The Black McDonald’s Operators Association of Chicago has been running a food drive around the holidays for the past 19 years.  The manager of the McDonald’s on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson gave out milk to tear-gassed protestors during the riots (although media is often eager to spin that around into “the milk was looted”).  But in these instances, it’s important to note that these are the actions of black franchisees understanding the importance of their role in the community, not corporate benevolence.

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