Olive Garden’s Promotion of Racism, An Open Letter

Dear Olive Garden,

On Friday, October 5, 2018, at 11:21 AM CST you shared the following post and picture from Courtney Ruth Pedigo. For perpetuity, the original post–and picture–are located below, too. 

Tonight my family and I went out to Olive Garden for dinner, and per Harlynn’s usual she did everything but sit in her high chair and eat her dinner like I picture in my dreams. She had me so overwhelmed from letting all of Olive Garden know she was in the house and trying her best to wiggle her way down me to run the restaurant, I had went to find our waitress to ask if she could please bring my food out in a Togo box cause we were going out to sit in the car….She really said NO 😂 “You’re going to go sit down and enjoy your dinner and I will be there to sit with her!” And that’s exactly what she did! She brought Harlynn a bowl of ice cream with caramel syrup and even though harlynn wouldn’t let her hold her, she sat there in my lap and let Nianni Nani Rudder feed her while I ACTUALLY GOT TO EAT MY FOOD WHILE IT WAS STILL HOTT!!!!!

Girl, you will never truly know how appreciative I am for tonight. I seriously admire you, Not only because you took the time to bribe my bratty little human with sweets so I could eat but because you are so so strong! I know your Mom is looking down from Heaven with the BIGGEST smile and so incredibly proud of the woman you are. I aspire to be the go getter you are and like I told my dad on our way home it has to take someone with a strong heart and mind to do what you do bc I know I couldn’t!

Thank you for your amazing service and for being so kind to us all!


While the post you shared has the apparatus of celebrating human kindness and good service, the diction used by your guest makes it entirely too racist, and you should be assumed of such promotion. 

Did you notice that Courtney calls the server, Nianni, a “girl”?

Did you notice how Courtney says, “your mom is…proud of the woman you are”?

And then Courtney says, “I aspire to be…you.”

Here we have racism, on top of notions of respectability politics, on top of your perpetuation of the idea that People of Color need to “save” White people. And, to reemphasize, here you have a White woman telling a Black woman that her mother would be proud of her??! That’s awfully personal and rude. Remember, these are two strangers. 

Your promotion of this post celebrates the idea that people racialized as White are “entitled” to comfort and service and “need” People of Color to assume the “correct” performative social roles. Again, this picture, especially with this framing and wording, is all too similar to the days when laws both de facto and de jure only allowed Black women to cook and clean for White women and their kids. Because of enslavement and the “Mammy” trope–think Gone with the Wind and The Help, for example–some (White) people find irrational and unexplained comfort with images of Black women caring for White children and White women.    

All Courtney had to do, to avoid such racialized implications, is to say something like, “Thank you to Nianni for the wonderful service and the unexpected gesture of feeding my baby so I could eat hot food for a minute.” But, such a post probably wouldn’t have gotten as much attention, as it wouldn’t have used and perpetuated outdated ideas about “place” and “acceptance,” ideas Trumpism is trying to bring back.

Let’s talk about the picture more specifically for a minute, too. This is not a picture of a friend feeding a baby. This is a picture of a Black woman in uniform and being paid feeding a White baby. When history and culture are considered, this image is offensive and inappropriate. The more I see this picture, the more I become uncomfortable. Historical baggage matters. 

(If the offer of help had come from a White man, a Middle Eastern man or woman, a Black man, the offer of help would have probably been denied, speaking culturally at least. The response, at least, would have been very different if such had happened and such help had been accepted. Customers are okay with images of Black women, maybe not so much with other intersectionalities.)

And finally, there is the issue some have raised that bringing children who need such attention to a restaurant isn’t fair to others–customers or employees. What if her server lost tip money because of this extra attention to one table? What about the needs of other guests–a screaming baby could prevent them from enjoying their hot meals. 

Rhetoric matters. Gender matters. Race matters. Intersectionality matters. Revealing the historical unconscious matters.  

Please consider removing the post, Olive Garden, and issuing an apology. 

Thank you for your time. 


Dr. Andrew Jospeh Pegoda

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