Tipping- Culture Woes
As I sit at the airport awaiting my flight, I watch the different individuals load onto their flights- the different classes, cultures and colours. I find airports very interesting as the class system is explicit in this environment. Physically separating the financially wealthy from the rest of the population, yet forcing the remainder of the travellers for that flight to walk through the area where they do not belong, viewing all that ‘these people’ have to keep them comfortable and entertained for their flight, whilst the remainder of us squish like sardines into our place- stumbling on each others toes, and hitting each other (usually unintentionally) with bags and luggage. As usually one of the last to board, I sit back and observe my surroundings. There are many people being escorted around in wheelchairs, as they are unable or find it difficult to walk to their flight. I notice that the people pushing the wheelchairs are all coloured- that I saw anyway- with all but one person receiving assistance being white.
I can’t help but feel uncomfortable in observing one face of a traveller in particular. The face is of a larger white man, being pushed in a wheel chair by a coloured lady. I’m left feeling extremely uncomfortable. It wasn’t just the race issue, nor the feminist within, but instead was something about the face of the man that plagued my mind… It was the image of his smug and satisfied face. I may have completely taken the image out of context. Maybe he was pleased to be out of the house. Maybe he was pleased to be travelling. Maybe he had just had a lovely holiday. All of these probable, all of these I do not know. But what I do know is this image made me feel uncomfortable and awkward, and led me to question the underlying issues and legitimacy of the tipping culture, and its relationship with the class system dominant in the U.S.
I’m reminded of the Hilary/Barack Democrat election, which was weighed down by debate surrounding what America was more ready for- A black man or a white female as their leader- questioning where the two sit on the cultural hierarchy. And the people have spoken, implying the coloured woman is at the bottom of that hierarchy. The airport image of not only a woman but a coloured woman pushing the man, and also many people of minorities working in face to face services, makes me question a; the link between race and tipping/services provided, and the cohort of employees, and b; the truth behind the tipping and financial gratuity.
Race and Gratuity
Kanye West recently stated we no longer live in a racist system, but instead a classist system. However, I consider the two to be interchangeable as the class system has historically been divided according to the colour of ones skin, and location in the world of ones’ ancestors. As I watch Australia’s population of refugees from around the globe increase, it is sad to see that many of the lower paid roles are performed by those of minorities- wedging further the cultural divide. When I visited the US prior to this stay I noted all of the lower paid positions were undertaken by either African Americans (with historic links to slavery) or Hispanics. I found this colour-highlighted representation of the class system to be disturbing, and gave me a sense of unease. I hoped that my country would not become this heavily divided. However, I have noted that we are not far off, with Indian, Asian and Afghani migrants becoming Australia’s new underclass- our indigenous Australians sprinkled throughout the cities in various roles and systems. In the similar roles that our migrants undertake due to financial pressure, the U.S has the same situation- however they have a much lower base rate and thus rely heavily on tipping and gratuity payments. The dominance of minimum wage in these fields of employment suggests that such individuals are forced to perpetually present a happy front in order to maximise their payments- somewhat invoking the ‘black face’ comedians/actors of the past, and certainly highlighting strong remnants of the white slave owner and black slave image. With lacking opportunity and wealth in the migrant communities, such roles perpetuate cycles of underpayment in exchange for both physically and emotionally draining employment.
The Hot Tip
The culture of tipping (to me) appears as an ideology which seems “good in theory, bad in practice”. The entire premise that financial rewards should be promoting good behaviour (comparative to Skinnerian philosophy) is not necessarily a bad thing, however in conjunction with low wages, this creates the basic model of behaviour as standard- instead of raising the bar for good behaviour based on common decency, morality, and a standard of care for your fellow woman/man. The model of fiscal exchange here, from a socialist’s eye, highlights entrenched roots in slavery, and the relationship between peoples and reasoning behind some forms of interaction.
There seems to be gratifications reached by individuals having another human lavishly feign interest in concerns for their issue/ailment/welfare. This compares on a level to the basic ideological foundation for “prostitution”. The basis of “prostitution” (in the sexual sense) is the exchange of sex work for monetary return. However, along with the act of sex work comes a feigned intimacy, a listening of woes, a pretend interest in the sexual acts the client requests- a false imagery of an interaction, in exchange for fiscal compensation. I am extremely pro sex work, and sex workers, yet I get confused as how individuals can utilise these services without questioning the fake interaction, and be satisfied with these interactions.
Michael Sandel references Kantian theory in his book titled Justice, a discussion surrounding morality, philosophy and what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Sandel makes the observation individuals cannot lie profusely, as this diminishes the validity of statements, rendering the art of conversation worthless. He asserts that if we perpetually lied nobody would listen, as our words would not mean anything. This implies we must only lie sporadically to maintain the worth of our dialogue. In regards to tipping and professional services, when we receive a smile and a perceived “care” in professional services, does this not make us question the genuineness of this? In applying the lying theory to tipping, when financial gratuity is regular and required, does this not mean that all are feigning care consistently, thereby minimising the worth of such “nice” acts?
Some may argue that all professions are simply this- feigned interest for reimbursement. However, I would argue that this is necessarily not the case. During my employment with incarcerated at-risk youth, my fiscal payment was simply in return for my maintaining the safety and security of staff and clients, assisting in the daily activities and continued support of the clients and standards of welfare. However, I did care for my clients, in a professional manner, on the basis of Kantian theory that all humans are equal and thereby equally deserving of respect. Not only did I uphold the standards of my paid purposes, but, I extended to offer real and legitimate care where necessary. It is these inconsistencies at times of emotions that make us human. If I presented the same level of care for each issue the client faced (a family member’s death, a drug or health issue, a headache, a sore limb) then the client would be unable to understand which interest was true and which was feigned. It is the ups and downs attributed to differing circumstances which present real and true interactions and human connections- which some may say is all we spend our day trying to achieve, other than survival.
If I were tipped every time I presented a behaviour over and above the required response in my role with the youth, then this would inevitably present some feigned responses. Inevitably. In bringing this back to Sandel’s discussion surrounding lying and validity of the spoken word, I suggest this renders the extended arm of care- pertained to be deserving of higher gratuity- null and void, cancelling each other out as the dangled carrot of financial benefit removes the validity of truth in the interaction, thereby creating a persistent lie.
Pay- With Benefits
Some may say that in my field I am reimbursed financially for those items listed on my position description, and those which I go over and above in doing is my choice, for the reimbursement of an emotional benefit. This argument carries some weight. However when entering this payment domain, the contract is unspoken, and the reward will vary per personality, interaction and client- based on extraneous variables at play with both parties. However as a person who is on a perpetual chase for truth and honesty in this crazy world, I know which rewarding interaction I would prefer to partake in. Yet I am a white Australian female who has been blessed by being born into a middle class family who considered education their number one priority, and had the finances to put their money where their priorities were. Their ancestors were from England, Ireland and Scotland- Instead of Sudan, Iraq, or Vietnam. So I haven’t ever had to undertake roles as a cleaner, food server or taxi driver. I choose to be employed in dangerous but intriguing and rewarding (on many levels) roles.