A Whataburger in Fort Worth, Texas, became the center of protests after an employee of the restaurant quit over a dispute about her mask.
Ma’Kiya Congious told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she had been wearing her mask with "Black lives matter" stitched on it for days before a customer complained about it on August 4. She had even received compliments on the mask before the complaint.
“I asked, ‘Is it something I did wrong?’ She said, ‘They should not allow you to wear that mask…don’t worry about it you’ll be hearing from corporate,’” the 19-year-old told the newspaper.
She began recording her bosses berating her after she told them the customer planned to contact management about her mask.
“Whataburger wants you to wear a mask that has no opinions whatsoever on them. You’re entitled to your personal opinions, that’s fine. But at Whataburger we don’t want to portray them because some people may be offended. This is a big business … Whataburger doesn’t want to get into anything political because we’re just hamburgers and fries," her manager said in the recording.
The manager, who is unnamed, demands the workers follow the restaurant's guidelines but is pushed by other employees who question why the mask is a problem at a restaurant in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The manager says she "is the minority here," apparently referencing that she was white and most of the workers were Black.
She goes on to reiterate that the masks cannot have "political opinions" on them. Another worker in the audio clip explains that the mask was important because of the racism she has faced on the job.
"My attitude has been kinda crappy the last couple of days because I had a Whataburger customer call me a n****r, and that's why my life matters," the woman said.
The manager and another senior official at the restaurant begin arguing with Congious and the other workers before she said she was quitting.
“You want to put your two weeks notice in? We accept it and you don’t have to come back at all,” the manager said.
Congious explained to the Star-Telegram that she started working at the restaurant in May and saw several different masks being used by fellow employees. Some had images, and one person wrote "Black lives matter" on a disposable mask.
Multiple people confirmed that the restaurant did not have a clear policy on what people could wear on their masks, reports the Star-Telegram. In documents from Whataburger that were shared with the newspaper by Congious, the company does not mention masks with political sentiments.
As Congious asked her bosses for more information about the process to quit, the police were called on her. Within minutes, five police cars had arrived at the restaurant, only to see Congious leaving without any problems, according to the Star-Telegram.
A spokesperson for Whataburger told the newspaper that Congious was making threats.
“Whataburger supports racial equality. This is simply a matter of enforcing our uniform policy. Whataburger employees are provided company-issued masks that comply with our policy and adhere to CDC and local government guidance,” a company statement read.
A representative for the company also said police were called because “the employee began to make threats to our restaurant management.”
A protest was held on August 5 with dozens of people showing their support for the 19-year-old, reports the Star-Telegram.
At first, employees told the Star-Telegram that customers started protesting by calling in massive orders only to drive off without taking or paying for them.
Later, a literal protest was held in front of the restaurant, with dozens of people playing music and chanting outside of the Fort Worth Whataburger.
“It’s a statement that, ‘Hey, my life matters, and I happen to be Black. If that bothers you, that’s part of the problem,’” said Henry Williams IV, one of the protest organizers.
— Emerson Clarridge (@eclarridge) August 6, 2020
In interviews during the protest, Congious said she felt more steadfast in her decision to quit and thought the way the situation was handled was not right.
“I’m not going to stop wearing my mask,” Congious later told the Star-Telegram.
She added that she graduated as salutatorian from New Beginning Christian Academy last year and has a young son, so she's on the hunt for better work.
The debate over Black Lives Matter gear in the workplace has continued to rage since the onset of the recent protests over police brutality. Some restaurants, like Starbucks, allow their employees to wear designated items emblazoned with the phrase.
But others, like Whole Foods, banned all non-company slogans from any clothing worn by employees.