‘White Appreciation Day’ Raises Ire—But Why?

    Hispanic BBQ owner’s commemoration provokes criticism

By Dana Wilkie May 19, 2015

We have Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month.

So why not “White Appreciation Day”?

Well, apparently, such a concept rubs some people the wrong way, if the resulting criticism leveled at a barbecue restaurant owner in Colorado is any indication.

Hispanic restaurant owner Edgar Antillon advertised that his Rubbin’ Buttz BBQ restaurant in Milliken, Colo., would observe a “White Appreciation Day” on June 11, 2015, with a 10 percent discount on meals. He told a local news station that people of other races—such as Hispanics like himself—would not get the discount.

After the news station’s report aired, Antillon was both criticized and applauded on social media. News of his White Appreciation Day trended on Twitter. One user tweeted, “Rolling my eyes #ridiculous.” Another person on Facebook wrote, “I'm Mexican-American and I support this.”

According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, someone called in a bomb threat to the restaurant and customers had to be evacuated. Antillon later appeared on CNN to explain that he was just trying to celebrate all Americans and honor the United States’ history as a melting pot.

So why would “appreciating” white people raise so much ire? Is it because whites aren’t a minority in the U.S. and therefore not in need of special attention or recognition?

“I think that some would find it offensive because whites are in the majority in this country, and the days commemorating other groups are because the histories of these groups have been forgotten and the people who are members of minority groups have often felt marginalized,” said Mary Frances Winters, president of the Winters Group, a diversity consulting firm. “It is an opportunity to learn more about the culture of groups that have not had a prominent place in the history books.”

Or is it because “appreciating whites” may come across as mocking well-established recognitions of minorities such as black or Hispanic Americans?

“I am not sure that it makes a mockery, but minorities often feel that every day is White Appreciation Day, in as much as whites are in the majority,” Winters said.

According to U.S. Census data estimates in 2013, 63 percent of Americans identified themselves as white, 12.3 percent as black or African American, 17 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent as Asian, 0.2 percent as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 2.4 percent as belonging to two or more races.

U.S. Census estimates made in July 2012 indicate that racial and ethnic minority groups are growing more rapidly in numbers than whites and that the white majority in the U.S. will be gone by 2043.

Many workplaces have “affinity” groups for people of different races. But experts said they don’t know of any workplace that encourages a “white” or “Caucasian” affinity group.

James Wright, a diversity and inclusion strategist, said he found it noteworthy that Antillon chose June 11 to celebrate a White Appreciation Day—just days before June 19, which marks the country’s commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

“The offense, for many, comes from a deep understanding of American history and how the contributions of specific groups such as Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans [and other minorities] have often been excluded from school curriculum and our everyday knowledge of our collective history,” said Wright, who pointed out that annual observances honoring minorities do not typically include giving commercial discounts. “To [give such a discount] shows a complete lack of understanding for the fight for equality for all people. It, in essence, turns an honorable moment into a transactional revenue-generating event and flies in the face of what all those before us fought to achieve.”

Antillon had his own take on why the U.S. should observe a White Appreciation Day.

“We need to end the white guilt, because they’re included in this American history and they should be included just like everybody else,” Antillon told USA Today.

A few days after Antillon’s original announcement made national headlines, he revised his offer and said the White Appreciation Day discount would extend to all customers who asked for it on June 11.

Antillon has twice run for a seat in the Colorado state House of Representatives and most recently lost his latest bid to join the legislature in 2014.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM. 

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