A racist trope

I am writing in response to Steve Brandt’s column “Lola’s financial problems preceded May fire” in the June 13–26 issue.

Brandt spends most of the article detailing the new restaurant’s fits and starts, some of which he admits were attributable to external factors, like a storm on the proposed opening weekend and code upgrade delays. In the last two paragraphs of the piece, he then makes an abrupt rhetorical leap: “Perhaps given the heat the Park Board has taken on equity issues, it was inevitable that it would choose a proposal from a minority-owned business such as King’s.” Brandt explicitly ties the troubles that Lola on the Lake experienced in its first year to the owner’s race — an appalling yet tired conclusion.

This trope, that hiring or contracting out to people of color (as opposed to white people) inevitably leads a business to underperform, is rooted in racist assumptions about why King’s group was chosen to run the lakeside restaurant — that it was due to the color of his skin, rather than to his excellent credentials (including having run two successful restaurants) or the strength of his proposal. It assumes that candidates of color are inherently less qualified than white candidates. And Brandt glibly elides the accusations of racism in the Park Board’s hiring and local financing decisions, describing the complaints as baseless, overly zealous “heat.”

I don’t think Brandt intended to be explicitly racist in tying the restaurant’s difficulties to the owner’s race — but — oops! — he went and swapped the dog whistle for a siren.

In 2017, Brandt wrote about cataloguing historical racist redlining policies in Minneapolis as part of the Mapping Prejudice Project (“Tracing the legacy of prejudice,” Sept. 21–Oct. 4). Musing on the developers who established the policies, he wonders about himself and his contemporaries, “Would we have had the moral fiber to stand against the prevailing current of thought?”

I urge Mr. Brandt to reread his own words and consider how his column contributes to a racist ideology that paints people of color as unqualified and whose opportunities and achievements are due to government programs rather than to their accomplishments and experiences.  I also encourage the Southwest Journal to refrain from publishing such baldly racist columns going forward.

Arielle Edelman McHenry