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The Girl, The Fury & The Fallout

This has been a year of debate about social justice. From Black Lives Matter marches to Donald Trump rallies, hundreds of thousands have gathered to express their views. It’s been a national story.

But when it gets personal, it gets ugly.

You’ve probably heard about the controversy at the highly regarded Sonoma restaurant The Girl & the Fig.

On Jan. 1, Kimi Stout, a former server, posted an Instagram video. It showed her peeling off her Girl & the Fig T-shirt, throwing it in a trash can and finishing with a double-barreled middle finger salute.

Below the video she wrote that she had been “forced out” of her job for refusing to stop wearing her Black Lives Matter face mask while working.

The post was picked up by SFGate. Their story said that a server lost her job because she refused to stop wearing a BLM mask. To the surprise of no one, many people heard that she was “fired” for wearing the mask.

And we had ourselves a viral controversy. As The Press Democrat has pointed out, media outlets from Newsweek to the London Daily Mail picked it up. Sondra Bernstein, the restaurant owner, and John Toulze, the president, were besieged.

Exasperated, they posted a statement on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “We did not fire her,” they wrote. “She made her own decision to quit because she did not want to follow the rules.”

If they were hoping this would tamp down the controversy, it was a swing and a miss. That post has over 1,600 comments and growing. Bernstein and Toulze (and Stout by the way) have been targeted with hateful attacks. A demonstration is planned Sunday in Sonoma.

So now I would like to ask. Has this made anyone happy? Has any progress been made here for the good of anyone or any cause?

Because I am not seeing it.

Let’s unpack this a little.

First, it doesn’t take much time on Stout’s Instagram account to see that she is passionate about BLM. Among her fashion shots — she’s a former Miss Sonoma County — and pictures of her dog are photos of her wearing a BLM mask and T-shirt with the caption “Making racists uncomfortable since 1986 (the year she was born.)”

Nothing wrong with that. Those are her views. I can even give you a scenario where this all happens and it is no big deal.

This began in September, when Toulze and Bernstein decided to change the restaurant’s dress code, requiring servers to wear either a restaurant-themed mask or a plain blue one.

Stout pushed back. She was told she could not work at Girl & the Fig if she insisted on the BLM mask. She quit and posted an Instagram video to show how angry she was.

Still no big deal. It happens in the workplace.

The game-changer was when she said she was “forced out of my position” for refusing to remove the BLM mask.

Now we bring in the whole “cancel culture” argument. The people who think she was fired are furious at Toulze and Bernstein, claiming they are demanding she disavow her beliefs.

But how would she feel if the server next to her was wearing a “Stop the Steal” mask? Just because you believe passionately in your cause doesn’t mean you can push your views at the workplace.

Also, it turns out that none of this is recent. As she says in her post, Stout made the trash can video on Sept. 3. She didn’t post it until four months later, on Jan. 1. Why now?

All of this has left Toulze and Bernstein shellshocked. One minute they were running a restaurant that has been a rousing success on the Sonoma Plaza for 23 years. The next they were embroiled in a debate on social justice.

They’ve made a couple attempts to explain themselves. The first, on Facebook, began defensively, “We have been silent for too long,” which isn’t exactly the right tone. But they go on to voice their support for Black Lives Matter. In a follow-up post they commit to several efforts to foster diversity and combat racism. Bernstein even says Stout “was a very good server and we were sorry to lose her.”

In a commentary in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, Bernstein pointed out that they’ve had a dress policy since 1997 — bluejeans, a long-sleeve white shirt and a green apron. In September, they changed the policy to include generic masks.

They cited the Amazon/Whole Foods policy that workers cannot wear “visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising.”

None of this seems to have helped. In her commentary, Bernstein said “our restaurant and personal reputations have come under assault.” She accuses “social media influencers” of “attacking our character and integrity without facts.”

Meanwhile, Stout has reappeared on Instagram. On Thursday, she posted another video. She looks into the camera and says, “If they allowed her to wear the mask they would be alienating some of their customers … (adding sarcastically) yeah, racists.”

It has been viewed nearly 6,500 times. This isn’t going away.

So here’s where things stand now. Stout is presumably out of a job. Bernstein and Toulz are getting death threats. BLM got some lip service, but the core issue — violence against unarmed people of color — wasn’t mentioned. And a protest is scheduled for Sunday at the restaurant … which is already closed “for the foreseeable future” because of fears of violence.

Help me out. Which of those is a win?

(Courtesy, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

5 Comments

  1. Janet Chan February 21, 2021

    The server is a disgruntled employee and hopefully, no one will employ her. If I wore a mask with something controversial, I would not be employed. She’s an unaware racist! So tired of hearing about BLM and cancel culture. Can’t we all just get along without having to play the race card for heaven’s sake?

  2. Anne Tyler February 21, 2021

    This is about the new “far left McCarthyism” – the tactics of black-listing people and businesses that do not march to the tune of the current political correctness. The restaurant should never have capitulated to the demands of such a bully. The use of social media to amass instantaneous crowds of full-time political “activists” – in order to threaten and silence all who might not agree with their views – has become a practiced method of intimidation and attack. This behavior must not continue to be rewarded.

  3. George Hollister February 20, 2021

    The way to stand out in an organization is to be a team player. If the organization has a poor work environment, go somewhere else. This independent minded, all about me server is likely to have a problem getting a job somewhere else. The restaurant business is a tough one, and no one wants to hire a likely problem.

  4. Roger Davis February 20, 2021

    Let me just add that had the waitress wanted to wear a mask with swasticas on it we would be having a whole different conversation.

  5. E sissy Crawford February 20, 2021

    I thought somewhere, before all this racial crap, the restaurant had a policy no logos on clothing- stop there. Let’s look at the other information coming out if this racial uprising – people don’t want to have segregation – or – do they. A company opens an all white school = racist. However it’s ok to have all black colleges, all black female schools also NAACP. (Is ther a NAAWP?). – what happened. Is that not racist. I am Hispanic, european, irish, French, Scottish and Native American. Why are people so afraid of color if someone’s skin? Let’s look at the “two(?) “ side of the racist coin. Is it because people have for centuries continued to be taught that some people were slaves- does that give them the right to say – “at a workplace I can ignore dress code and stick to my beliefs and become an advertisement for my beliefs”? No. People. You want a job follow the rules. The dress code was set. Work it go find a hob where you can advertise your beliefs. Pretty simple. Follow the golden rule which had nothing to do with color

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