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Racism and harsh comments in social media can hurt your business. Nothing should be ‘unexpected’ about that. | COMMENTARY

People gather outside of Vince's Crab House after the owner made racial comments on social media. He would later apologize for the comments.
People gather outside of Vince's Crab House after the owner made racial comments on social media. He would later apologize for the comments. (Brian Krista)

It was a lovely spring weekend for calling out Maryland business owners for statements condemned as racist at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement continued to protest police brutality in the wake of the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police.

In Annapolis, the owners of Bruster’s Real Ice Cream apologized for the decision of one of them to call protesters in the District of Columbia “animals” in a Facebook post, a comment that sparked calls for a boycott of his business and a deep dive into his earlier social media postings.

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In response to clashes between police and protesters, David Ruth, co-owner of the Bruster’s with his wife, wrote,"If u act like an animal. u get treated like an animal” followed later by “#WhatLivesMatter.” He and his wife later issued an apology for the comment, but it remains to be seen how much a crack like that will hurt their business.

On Saturday, we had an amazing scene in Middle River: About 100 men and women showed up at Vince’s Crab House to protest the proprietor’s racist remarks on Facebook. It was Vince Meyer who posted this comment, a “blacks on welfare” throwback, on June 1: “There is one place I bet the protesters/rioters won’t light on fire or break into or even block the road to … the social services buildings.”

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Meyer found himself suddenly swamped by protesters, some of whom traveled to Harford County to demonstrate at another Vince’s location in Fallston. People found more comments by Meyer from previous postings that put him on the wrong side of the movement against police brutality and racism. Again, there were calls for a boycott. Again, the offender had to apologize, this time while acknowledging that his customer base is “75% black people.”

Since then, the five Vince’s Crab Houses have been closed, with a plan to reopen next week. A handwritten sign on the Fallston location stated the reason as “due to unexpected problem."

But nothing about this should be “unexpected.” If you run a business and want to offer the world your blatant or thinly veiled racist snark, you risk serious consequences. Your comments on Twitter or Facebook are not private. They do not stay among friends and the like-minded. They are public and will bite you in the wallet.

Last year, Brian McComas, the owner of Ryleigh’s Oyster in Lutherville-Timonium and, until recently, Federal Hill, got a hard backlash for harsh comments he made on Twitter about the Baltimore Ceasefire movement. He mocked it as ineffective against “thugs,” using the hashtag #villageidiots to refer to organizers of the anti-violence effort. McComas later apologized, saying he was angry at the high pace of crime and the failure of city leaders to arrest it. When someone in social media called him a racist, McComas insisted that “THATS THE LAST THING I AM FOLKS. Racists come in all shapes, sizes and colors. See: Baltimore City leadership.”

McComas’s cracks are not unlike those I receive by email from suburban readers who want nothing to do with Baltimore while offering no solutions to its problems. And though he closed his location in the city last month, saying Baltimore was “in a death spiral,” he continues to be harshly critical of city leadership.

Here’s a comment posted Monday night by @MacOyster, McComas’s Twitter handle: “Just imagine for a minute … Scott, Mosby and Mosby running Baltimore.”

That was a reference to the prospect of Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott becoming the next mayor, based on the results of the Democratic primary as of Monday evening, with more ballots to be counted. The reference to “Mosby and Mosby” would be to Nick Mosby, the state delegate who was just elected City Council president to succeed Scott, and Mosby’s wife, Marilyn Mosby, the current Baltimore State’s Attorney.

McComas, who is white, apparently has low expectations for Scott, Mosby and Mosby, all three of whom are black, though he doesn’t say why.

While his tweet was not overtly racist, some of his Twitter followers added comments that would be hard to construe otherwise. “A potato has more potential,” said one. “It’s going to be great,” replied another. “And The three headed waste monster will try and defund the [Baltimore Police Department]. And somehow blame the whites for the city being in ruin.” Here’s another: “And the people of HarmCity didn’t think it could get worse, wow.”

McComas has every right to comment via Twitter. That’s his choice, that’s his business. But it’s also the choice of customers who might be offended to take their money elsewhere.

In the old days, before the internet and social media, white people could talk among themselves and share or tolerate racist views without consequence.

In 1988, however, there was a revealing incident in Howard County: The white manager of a country club was inadvertently recorded on a telephone answering machine making the ugliest of racial comments about a black NAACP member.

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The NAACP member had called to ask about the country club’s hiring practices. The manager returned the call but, assuming that the connection had ended, continued to speak to others in his office, referring to the caller by the N-word at least three times.

Word of this got to the news media. There were calls for a boycott of the country club. The owner issued an apology, fired the manager and made amends to the NAACP.

That happened 32 years ago, and there was a lesson for all of us, business owners or not: Racism stays with us as long as people perpetuate it, and you perpetuate it when you tolerate it in private or, these days, share it with followers on a Twitter feed or on Facebook among friends. Go along with it, and you’re no better than the original poster.

And something else: Moving your heart and your brain to a better place should not simply be a business decision. It’s not about “political correctness.” It’s about being a better human being.

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