• Tyierra R. Henderson

Here’s Some History: The Racist Past of Tipping


Original Photo: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Wikimedia Commons

In America it is the common practice to tip your waiter 10-20% of your bill for their hard work while they serve you your meal. It's just what's expected of you. But have you ever thought about the history of where tipping came from? I mean, we don't tip people at the grocery stores, or when we buy a new car. Why is it so important for us to tip restaurant waiters and waitresses? It could possibly because if it's racist past.

The custom of tipping in the US has been racist from its start in the 19th century after the ending of the Civil War. It's not because the tipping minimum wage is currently $2.13/hr compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr or that on average co-workers of black servers get more tips than they do. Tipping became even more popular as newly freed slaves began migrating to large cities but had no money. They would be hired for "unskilled" jobs which were mostly in restaurants. The owners of those restaurants would hire black people in need and embrace the tipping culture as a way to get cheap labor by not having to pay them any wages. Customers were fine with this practice as they found it natural to provide tips to those they believed were secondary to them.  

Some white employers were not happy with the idea of all black men and women being free. In order to keep the culture “inferior” and poor, the tipping system was created and it was quickly embraced. In 1902, a journalist named John Speed shared that he believed that "negros take tips, of course, one expects that of them - it is a token of their inferiority. But to give money to a white man was embarrassing to me. The shady system of tipping allowed employers to keep black people poverty-stricken, to receive free labor from them and to maintain power over the culture. It has been more than a century and the racism of tipping is still floating around in the US with employees who are not white making over 50% less than their counterparts. While we here in America are stuck in the past,  places like Europe, where this tipping system first began, have moved on to paying restaurant workers normal wages. It is surely time for a change for us here in America.


 Can you believe how little our culture has really changed since the days of Jim Crow or even slavery? Share your thoughts in the comments below!