Firing of Black server sparks protest at Detroit restaurant

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — Demonstrators gathered for a second day outside a Detroit restaurant to protest the firing of an employee who claims she was let go after White employees allegedly complained about her using the term "light skin."

About 30 protesters lined 14th Street and circled around the entrance of the parking lot at Green Dot Stables on Tuesday night, with some of them approaching cars attempting to enter the restaurant. 

Protesters at the entrance to the parking lot of Green Dot Stables.

They were holding signs and chanting "Racist firing, Hell no." 

Colleen Robar, a spokeswoman for Green Dot Stables, which serves sliders, fries, soups and salads, said the restaurant would not comment beyond an emailed statement: "We value our employees and their privacy. Our policy is not to share information about our personnel."

An owner and a manager at the restaurant Tuesday declined to comment.

The protests were sparked after Christine Turner said she had been working at the restaurant for about 10 days as a server when she was fired for saying a term she said she uses to describe herself. 

Turner, who was at the protest Tuesday, said she made a comment to a Black employee, calling her "light skin."

According to Turner, a White employee overheard the conversation and joined in, using the term "light skin" to refer to herself.

An argument developed between Turner and the employee over the term and who has a right to use it, Turner said. She said she cited the historical relevance of the term and its frequent use in the Black community.

"I just laughed it off and didn't think anything else because I, myself, am light skin," said Turner. 

Turner said she was called into the office the next day by a manager, who told her she was being terminated due to discrimination after the employee she had argued with complained about her use of the term. 

"He said, 'Can't you see how a White person would be offended?' and I looked at him dead in his face and said, 'No,' " said Turner. 

Christine Turner sharing her experience with a driver outside of Green Dot Stables.

Turner said she initially was hesitant to protest her firing.

"When you're Black, you try not to unintentionally pull the race card," she said. 

It wasn't until she spoke with the owner of where she held a second job, who told her the firing was unfair, that she took action.

The protest was organized by Turner with help from Detroit Solidarity Movement and By Any Means Necessary.

On Tuesday night, a group was staged on the lawn preparing a barbecue, with tables lined with refreshments for protesters.

Police vehicles were stationed in an empty parking lot across the street.

Police staged across from the protesting on 14th St.

"We heard about the protesting on social media. We're just here to keep the peace," said Sgt. Stephanie Smith of the Detroit Police Department. 

The owner of Green Dot Stables was seen speaking to one of the officers across the street. 

"She just wanted to know what the rules are, if (the protesters) are allowed to be here and if they are allowed to block the sidewalk," said Smith.

Ash Ronan, a Detroit resident and frequent visitor of the restaurant, was eating there Tuesday with a friend and said he was upset and confused after hearing about the firing of Turner.

"I didn't expect to come outside to this at all," said Ronan, who is Black and identifies as light skin. "It's so interesting that they don't understand nuance."

Friends of Turner also showed up.

Christine Turner sharing her story with customer Ash Ronan after seeing him exist the restaurant.

"They didn't even pull her aside and talk to her about it," said Nicole Stuckey. "It tells me you don't even want to learn, you don't even want to be educated."

Turner said the restaurant reached out to her Monday, once media began covering the event, and asked for a meeting with her. She refused until she could bring a lawyer, she said.

Robar confirmed in an email: "We have reached out to Chris for a meeting and hope to speak with her in the near future," she said. 

Turner said she plans to continue protesting through the weekend and hopes to bring awareness to what she said is discrimination on the part of the staff.  

"I'm just really confused as to why they terminated me instead of just talking to me," she said.