Call and order a pizza delivery from Domino's. If you live in certain neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., Domino's will deliver a pizza but not to your door. You'll have to go out to the curb to the deliveryman's car; pay him and then take your pizza. In response to this practice, Jim and Wesley Bell, and several of their neighbors, recently filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Domino's charging racial discrimination.
Let's ask ourselves why Domino's engages in a business practice that's insulting to a significant segment of their clientele. While we're at it, we might note that Domino's is not alone in employing different business practices when it comes to serving some of their black customers. In some neighborhoods, Chinese restaurants take and serve orders through a secure window in a wall; telephone installers operate in teams and notify police prior to making an installation. Companies refuse to make deliveries altogether in some neighborhoods.
People with a myopic vision charge that all of this is racism. But that means racism is worse than ever. During the 1940s, when I lived in Philadelphia's Richard Allen housing project, there was no problem receiving deliveries of anything: furniture, soda, groceries, you name it. Telephone installers didn't operate in teams. Life insurance salesmen worked their collection rounds picking up payments. That the insurance man was coming upstairs was a dead giveaway by the sounds of coins jingling in his pockets.
It's highly doubtful that racial discrimination can explain Domino's delivery practices. High crime rates in black neighborhoods can. Crime imposes a hefty tax on law-abiding residents of black neighborhoods. The insult associated with not being able to receive pizza deliveries on the same terms as people in other neighborhoods is just a small part of that tax. Residents bear costs of having to shop outside of their neighborhoods; criminals have driven businesses out. Children can't play safely in front of their homes. Fearing robberies, taxi drivers, including black drivers, often refuse to accept telephone calls for home pickups and frequently pass black customers by on the street. Neighborhood property values are lower as a result of crime.
None of this is fair to law-abiding people. If we were creating a brand new world, Domino's business practices would not be allowed. But we're not creating a new world; we must begin with the world we have in 1999. As such we can't just say, "Do something!" without asking what's the cost of that something. There's no argument that there's a benefit from mandating that Domino's deliver pizzas to everybody on equal terms. But what's the cost and is the cost worth it? Another way to put the question is: how many pizza deliveries are worth how many assaulted, robbed or dead deliverers? If pizza deliveries to the door are deemed more important than the safety of the deliverer, there might be a case for mandating deliveries on equal terms.
It's by no means flattering that black has become synonymous with crime. Crime not only imposes high costs on blacks, crime sours race relations. Whites are apprehensive of blacks and blacks are offended being the subjects of that apprehension. That apprehension and offense are exhibited in many insulting ways such as a black pedestrian waiting at an intersection and hearing cars doors lock, jewelers keeping their doors locked and extra surveillance of black shoppers.
Black people must first own up to the fact that we commit most of the crime in America. Then we, not white people, not policemen and politicians, have to do something about it. Self-serving race hustlers who charge that responses to black crime such as Domino's is racism do not serve us well.
Walter E. Williams
October 8, 1999
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