Surprise: Another 'Bigots Left Me No Tip!' Restaurant Anecdote Exposed as Hoax

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 2:05 PM

Racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry unquestionably still exist in this country -- ugly vestiges of eras that ought to be bygone, and disturbing reminders of the darker side of human nature.  It's nevertheless wrong to pretend that significant progress has not been made regarding social and legal protections for minority groups.  Attitudes have improved, even if flare-ups, controversies, and highly-publicized incidents or hate groups sometimes make it seem like we're still a long way off from a 'more perfect union.'  What certainly does not help matters is the fabrication of hateful incidents or hate crimes, wherein a fake "victim" seeks to exploit society's revulsion at bigotry for his or her own personal gain, or simply to remind people of larger "truths," through damaging lies.  Here's the latest example of the latter, twisted phenomenon (via @redsteeze and Ed Morrissey). Shot:

A Facebook post documenting racial abuse that a Saltgrass Steak House server was subjected to over the weekend drew thousands of responses condemning comments of unidentified patrons who called the Odessan a “terrorist” as they refused to tip him. Khalil Cavil, a 20-year-old Odessan working at the restaurant as he prepares to attend college in Dallas later this year, posted an image of a dinner receipt on Sunday along with a response to the abuse the night before. The diners he had served circled his name, which means “friend” in Arabic, and wrote “We don’t Tip Terrorist.” They left no tip on the more than $108 bill. "At the moment I didn’t know what to think nor what to say, I was sick to my stomach,” wrote Cavil, who is black.  "I share this because I want people to understand that this racism, and this hatred still exists. Although, this is nothing new, it is still something that will test your faith. All day I’ve had to remind myself that Jesus died for these people too. I have decided to let this encourage me, and fuel me to change the world the only way I know how…” His post drew more than 1,600 comments and more than 1,100 shares by Monday afternoon. People even offered to pay the tip amid a resounding condemnation of the abuse.

The outpouring of outrage resulted in the restaurant issuing a statement backing up their employee and banning the customer in question from their business, and upset strangers sent roughly $1,000 to Cavil to help right the apparent wrong. And then came the chaser:

Saltgrass originally said it had banned the customer blamed for the message. But now, the restaurant's corporate office says it has learned the story was a hoax. "After further investigation, we have learned that our employee fabricated the entire story," Terry Turney, COO of Saltgrass Steak House, told the Odessa American in a statement. "The customer has been contacted and invited back to our restaurant to dine on us. Racism of any form is intolerable, and we will always act swiftly should it occur in any of our establishments. "Falsely accusing someone of racism is equaling disturbing," Turney said. Cavil also admitted to newspaper that he wrote the "we don't tip terrorist" note himself. "I did write it," Cavil told the Odessa American. "I don't have an explanation. I made a mistake. There is no excuse for what I did." After sharing his post on Facebook, Cavil had received monetary donations, which he told the newspaper is now being returned.

A few quick thoughts on this incident: (1) If your goal is to increase awareness or "wokeness" on racial, religious, or identity discrimination, inventing an example of it and passing it off as real is just about the worst thing you can do. Once you're caught, which is a near certainty in our social media era, you are forever discredited on the issue -- and many people who see your hoax are more likely to be skeptical of the next incident, even if it's authentic. It's the veritable definition of counter-productive behavior. Speaking personally, I vividly recall a hate crime accusation that was later exposed as fake during my freshman year of college; the campus rallied against racism, then the supposed target of that racism was forced to admit he'd scrawled the racist slurs across his own dorm room door. This behavior is rooted in a weird human impluse that I cannot fully understand, yet hoaxes like the recipt flap in Texas crop up fairly regularly. I can remember several recent examples off the top of my head, in fact (plus a few more that haven't been conclusively discredited, but seem suspicious). If you care about defeating bigtory, don't make up bigotry.  Broadly speaking, "fake but accurate" is really just fake. 

(2) If I had to hazard a guess, Cavil may have just been peeved that he was stiffed with no tip on a significant check and decided to retaliate in a terrible way. Having worked in restaurants, not tipping the wait staff is really a nasty thing to do to hardworking people who often rely on tips to pay their bills, and is only possibly justified by truly egregious service -- in which case, a conversation with a manager is probably in order. Needless to say, even if this had been Cavil's motivation, it's absolutely not an excuse. What he did is much worse than the infraction of being a thoughtless cheapskate. 

(3) Why highlight this incident, in particular? Because hoaxes like this grate at my sense of fairness and justice and enrage me because of the damage they do vis-a-vis the real thing. False or casual accusations of hatred water down the public's reaction to fresh allegations of bigotry. People become jaded and inured by false alarms. When the actual problem rears its ugly head, actions like Cavil's plant seeds out doubt about whether it's real, or just another fantasy from an attention seeker. Also, I chose to underscore this specific story because our site covered it back when the hoax aspect wasn't known. An update to that post was issued, but the extent and impact of the lie merits a separate piece to correct the record, in my view.