Chinese Menu Discrimination
A Hispanic man from Wisconsin has filed a complaint with the NYC Human Rights Commission about the fact that restaurants in Chinatown charge an average of $1 less to customers who can read and order in Chinese.
Matt Yglesias thought this discriminatory pricing was common knowledge and is “not really sure what’s wrong with this kind of business practice; it’s no different from offering student fares on airlines or senior citizens’ discounts at movie theaters.” While I was unaware of this practice, I would agree with Matt’s conclusion but not his analysis.
Disagreement first: Given that this practice amounts to ethnic discrimination, it is probably illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its various amendments and interpretations. While I think senior citizen discounts silly, because they’re based on the false premise that the elderly have less disposable income, they’re not discriminating against a protected class. And, indeed, most people will eventually get old and be part of the benefited class.
Should it, however, be illegal for business owners to decide that they can get away with charging one group of people more than another and adjust their prices accordingly? Absolutely not. Car dealerships, for example, do it all the time. Indeed, aside from the “no haggle” establishments, virtually every customer gets charged a slightly different price.
Further, if I’m willing to pay $5 for my congee with minced beef, what concern is it of mine if some Chinese-speaking person at the next table (or indeed, virtually all the other tables) is paying $4?