Ginnie Graham: Tipping has its roots in systemic racism, and it’s time to end it | Columnists

In pre-Civil War times, tipping was not part of American society. Segrave cites two 19th century sources in stating that tipping was non-existent in the United States before 1840.

“What, may I ask, is more un-American than tipping?” It does not belong to American society; that does not belong to democracy. It is a product of lands where for centuries there has been a servile class,” says one of the 19th century writers.

Right after the Civil War, former slaves found work as cooks, waiters, railroad porters, barbers, and other types of low-wage laborers. Many employers would not pay former slaves, instead accepting donations to separate the workers.

“It will be observed that these occupations are nearly all occupied by foreigners and negroes who, for the most part, have been brought up under the condescending and semi-feudal influences of paternal or pre-wage conditions,” states an article in Gunton’s Magazine of 1896 quoted in Segrave’s book.

The practice was criticized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a New York Times editor writing that the practice was spreading like “evil insects and weeds”. Some restaurants have announced that they do not allow tipping as a means of attracting customers.

The sexism involved in the practice has also been noted in some publications. Segrave quotes a journalist who criticized the effect of tipping on female students, noting that it inherently places them as inferior to male customers.

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