McDonald’s Appears to be Serving Systemic Racism to Black Franchise Owners

Herb Washington, a former professional baseball player with the Oakland A’s and serial McDonald’s franchiser, recently filed a lawsuit against the fast-food mega-conglomerate alleging racial discrimination for the chain’s pattern of steering Black owners into restaurants in impoverished neighborhoods that yielded less profit, targeting them with unequal assessments that made it harder to renew their contracts, then pressuring them to sell to White owners.

The Washington Post reports that Washington who once owned 27 McDonald’s restaurants between New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania over the last four decades, became a target of the corporation for speaking out on what he describes as “predatory, racially-biased steering practices.” According to the report, Washington’s franchise ownership has been reduced to 14 McDonald’s stores, as he alleges that he has been forced to sell seven of his former stores to white owners within the past three years.

“McDonald’s has targeted me for extinction," Washington told the Post in a recent interview. He said the purpose of his lawsuit is to end the “two-tiered system where Black owner-operators cannot be as successful as Whites.”

Naturally, McDonald’s released a counter-argument stating that Washington’s claims are false and the failings of his restaurants are the result of years of mismanagement. In a press statement McDonald’s claims that Washington’s restaurants have “a public record of these issues including past health and sanitation concerns and some of the highest volumes of customer complaints in the country.”

This could have some merit if the corporation did not face a similar lawsuit just last year by 52 other Black McDonald’s franchise owners, accusing the corporation of “systematic and covert racial discrimination” for intentionally placing their restaurants in economically depressed and high-crime locations with higher operating costs, frequent employee turnover and lower sales.

The irony of these accusations is steeped in how aggressively McDonald’s markets itself as a corporate friend to the Black community. Their 365Black campaign is one of the most visible Black audience-targeted marketing strategies of a conglomerate of its size. Its alleged aim: “To use education and entrepreneurship to help build the next generation of Black Excellence.”

McDonald’s is also an annual title sponsor of the Essence Music Festival where its branding can be found all over festival paraphernalia and in seminars/talks hosted by them throughout what is traditionally one of the Blackest, most cultural and upwardly mobile weekends of any (non-COVID) calendar year.

Yet, despite all of its front-facing celebration of Black culture, the complaints from its Black franchisers are a (drive-thru) window into the corporate culture of the most visible name in the fast-food industry. If Black owners are mainly only offered the opportunity to set up shop in areas where the economic forecast is bleak and are not getting adequate resources from the top to thrive, then it can be reasoned that the McDonald’s corporation does not have much of a vested interest in Black franchisers.

Which reads as supersized systemic racism.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be

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