Racism: Good for business

So, my friend and Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema has a very interesting article in the Voice this week on the “gourmet” (read: yuppie) grocery delivery service Fresh Direct.

The most interesting of his objections (though they’re all worthy) is this:

It was clear, too, that Fresh Direct was redlining much of the city, refusing to service neighborhoods based on what seemed like race and class considerations. Go to the Fresh Direct website, and the first thing you’re asked for is your zip code. Punch in Cypress Hill, Brooklyn (11208), and the message instantly appears, “Home delivery is not available in your area.” Ditto for Sheepshead Bay (11235), East New York (11207), and Woodside, Queens (11317)—the latter a stone’s throw from Fresh Direct’s Long Island City headquarters. The entire Bronx is snubbed by Fresh Direct—with the exception of its northernmost island of wealth, Riverdale.

Yep, you read that right. The entire Bronx is apparently anathema to business except the part of it most inconveniently located…that also happens to be filthy rich (and free of brown people). Even worse is this:

Other zips are more ambiguous, with Fresh Direct only delivering to certain addresses. In Washington Heights, the computer said Fresh Direct would not deliver to 536 West 175th, a building in a Dominican neighborhood, but it would send a truck to a middle class co-op a few blocks west, 360 Cabrini Boulevard.

I actually went to visit this scorned-upon street in Washington Heights with Robert during the Dominican parade a few weeks ago. A block away, men were dressed in wild, feathered costumes that reminded me of mardi gras in New Orleans, and a local band was playing music right on the sidewalk. People were partner dancing in the streets. It was truly awesome. Now, chances are that most of these residents would disdain the use of some yuppie grocery delivery service as much as Robert does. But is there any reason to suppose that people in this not-quite-as-affluent neighborhood lead any less busy lives and are any less likely to relieve some stress by having their groceries delivered? What, are their dollars less green? This is rank, outrageous racism and it ought to be called out as such. It’s one thing to delimit your delivery area based on travel constraints or by neighborhoods. It’s laughably transparent to claim that you can deliver to an affluent (mostly white) high-rise, but can’t possibly set foot in the Dominican neighborhood three blocks east. How dare they? How is this any different from Dolce and Gabbana or Tiffany’s refusing to service a black or latino customer? That’s illegal. And this ought to be, also.

For all I know, it is. Any lawyers out there? This kind of discriminatory business practice shouldn’t be allowed to continue. I’m of a mind to try to organize some kind of activism about it.

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