Ethical Dilemma #3 – Would You Say Something?

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Every now and then I hear about a situation that makes me wonder what I would have done if I was there when it happened. Over the past few months I have asked you all what your opinions were regarding these scenarios and as such I have gained some terrific new perspectives. You can see some past Ethical Dilemmas here and here.

I have a new Ethical Dilemma for you today based on something that happened to my friend last week. Please leave a comment and share any insights or opinions that you have. I am really interested in what you all think about this one.

You and a friend are going out for a quiet drink and your local bar. A great conversation is taking place and you are really enjoying the night. After a while the bartender gets involved in your conversation and you discover that he is a really nice chap.

After about half an hour a young man of Arab heritage walks in, sits next to you and your mate, and asks the bartender for a beer. The bartender promptly refuses to serve the man based on his race and asks him to leave.

Do you say/do something? Why? Why not?

Like I said, I am really interested to hear what you have to say about this situation. If I get enough useful comments I will share what happened after the incident. Needless to say I was extremely shocked that someone, in this day and age, would refuse another human being a drink based on their race.

44 thoughts on “Ethical Dilemma #3 – Would You Say Something?

  1. Yeah, of course. However, I might take a more subtle approach. If I have the time before it turns into an argument or the guy leaves, I’d probably order a drink myself and give it to the guy. Failing that, I might ask if he wants to go to another bar and have a drink. I’d definitely say something to the bartender, but the context would define just how confrontational I was. I would probably say it loud enough for at least the people right next to the bar to hear and hopefully gain support. Granted, there’s always the risk of bigots in the crowd too.

    As for “why,” that’s a bit more difficult to answer. I’d say that I value aspects of social justice (equality being the applicable one here) and that I can empathize.

  2. I am not sure what I would do in this situation although I hope I would stand up for the Arab. I wish I was articulate enough to think of something funny to say and diffuse the situation. I actually experienced a similar situation to this as a child of about 12. One night my parents and I were returning from a trip out of state visiting relatives. An African American man was standing by his car and needed some help. My father picked him up and took him to a nearby town where they had to go to several stores before someone would provide the needed assistance. My father gave him a few dollars. I could tell my mother was a little afraid and did not approve. I am not a person who vividly remembers their childhood experiences but even I knew this one was significant. My father was not very successful in the world’s eyes but he always put others before himself.

  3. Hi
    At that situation , I will try to know from the barattender reason why the arab was refused drink . If he says it is because of race then I would feel bad about it and will tell him that is not good to discriminate based on race amd I wont consider him as friend.
    If I happen to meet the Arab latter would convey my feeling regarding the way he was treated


  4. According to what I read, you and your friend find that the bartender is somewhat friendly and a nice person (“he is a really nice chap”).

    Also, he talk to the arab guy in a nice manner (The word “promptly” => your word choice was strange, but I will take it into consideration)=> so he didn’t mean to offense. This gives a clue that the reason might not simply racism or prejudice.

    Since there is already a friendly atmosphere b/t you guys, no need for a conflict to destroy that atmosphere.

    I will say something because this obviously an unfair treatments. However, what I say and how I say it matter most.

    I will not confront the bartender to protect the Arab guy. The Arab guy doesn’t need anyone to pity him. Also, even if you get the bartender to change his mind, the night is already ruined.

    I will let the bartender know that I acknowledge his kind personality but disapprove his decision: “You seem to be a really friendly guy, but I’m surprise that you discriminate people like this.”

    The bartender may defense himself (he has a personal reason, or has been to war in the middle east, or family death involve Arab individuals…). Or he might not offer any reason at all.

    If he offers a reasonable explanation for his choice, then I will stick around, may be convince him to change his mind. Also, I will let him know: “oh, I’m sorry/didn’t know. But you appear like a racist when you just a ask him to leave like that.” Let him know that some people might take it offensively and conflicts could happen.

    I hope the arab guy understand and leave since the bartender’s choice is personal (and reasonable.)

    If he does not offer a reason, or the reason is unreasonable, then: “I think what you did was unfair and I don’t like it.” Get up, pay, and leave.

    I could also ask the arab guy to grab a drink somewhere else, or suggest a good place.

    Also, what debatable here is a “reasonable explanation” for such discrimination.

    But, as a vietnamese, I understand some vietnam war veterans may refuse to serve me. War has been a devastating experience to them, I should respect their choice (even though I’m not the cause of their pains).

    So, being in a war, witness someone get killed by Saudis, or deaths cause by Saudis (or other Arabic heritage)… are considered “reasonable explanation” to me.

    Also, if it’s the stores policy, then the bartender is not at fault.

    So there, sorry for such a long response. Hope it wasn’t too confusing.

    P.S. I interpreted the world “promptly” in American context, it might mean something different in English.

  5. I would absolutely speak up. I would also ask for the owner or manager and report my dissatisfaction to them, along with my intention to never return if the bartender was allowed to remain employed there.

  6. I will react according to the situation.

    Most probably, I would not question first, I will see what happened next.

    I will try to understand the point of view of the bartender as to why beer will not be served to the Arab.
    Based on race? Religion prohibits? Or something like that.

    If the Arab leave without saying or doing anything, I will ask the bartender for his reason of doing so.

    But if the Arab starts an argument, I will ask the bartender to give a reasonable reason as to why he do not serve the Arab the beer he asked for.

    I think everyone should be given an appropriate reason to be boycott this way.

    I don’t know much about races discrimation and stuffs like that, and do not know much about middle east war and such, but even if you refuse a person a drink, you should give a clever response instead of just shutting him down.

    Its not about lying or what, but to save the situation, since he is a bartender, its his work to serve people, even if there’s any reason that made him unable to serve, he should handle the situation with sensitivity, so as not to create any awkward situation to anyone base on their background or race.

    –Well just some random thoughts =)

  7. Yes I would said something!! I would say it in a nice way and hear the bartenders reason and give her my point. If the bartender is reacting in a negative way I would talk to the manager of the bar and ask him to make sure that doesn’t happen ever again.

  8. So even if the bartender is a nice chap, I say something. Actually I wouldn’t just say something. I would pretty much ask to speak to the manager of the establishment and raise the matter with them.

    If the bartender was the manager, I’d pretty much just leave and said establishment would have lost a potential life long client.

  9. The bartender is there to do a job.
    The more people he has in there, the faster he is, and the happier (crunked) everyone else is, the more money he makes in tips.
    If he feels that Arabs should not be in the establishment, either because he is a bigot himself or because he feels his average customer is a bigot, then he has his choice to remove that individual (hate to see someone lose money because they were friendly and accepting!)
    Also, the bartender has the authority to screen you out of his establishment as well; so I really don’t know if I would say anything at all (it would certainly help if I could vouche for the fella though).

    I expect this arab was in some traditional outfit or had a full beard and attracted attention (that scared the sensitive 9/11 boners out there); I also expect if he were to wear American clothes and shave the beard, then he could assimilate himself into our society much quicker and easier.
    I really hate to say it, but: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”..

  10. Interesting comment $$$. I think you are the first person to agree with the bartender.

    You say “when in Rome…” but what exactly are the “Romans” in this case? Isn’t America supposed to be founded on the principles of freedom of religion, worship and association? Interesting.


  11. I know, it was really bad that I said that.
    And yeah I agree with the principles, religion, freedom, and capitalism aspects that you mentioned earlier.

    But you know sometimes the clear majority of Americans can be a little sensitive.
    That isn’t good or bad, it’s just how they are.
    For instance, consider some of the following issues that continue to upset the majority:
    Why do video games have to be so violent?
    Why is rap so hateful? Especially Eminem, what is his problem?
    Why are we being forced to buy these pussy hybrids? I though we told the rest of the world these colors don’t run. Not even from OPEC!
    And why in the hell are these gay people trying to get married? WTF is there problem! If they would just accept God’s word and love Jesus, then they would all be cured!

    So you see, we really do live in a silly society, and you can’t take the masses seriously, because that is all they are; just a crowd with fear, burning sticks, and the right as an American to cleanse the bad people of this beautiful land.

  12. I would say something. It would depend on how the situation felt so it’s a bit hard to be specific just based on a written description. However, I would probably ask the newcomer to stay and join us and then ask the barman to serve him. It would depend on how they responded as to what happened next from there…

  13. I guess I’d try to ascertain whether there was a non-racist reason for refusing service. A bartender’s job is more than just serving drinks. They must maintain a safe environment for all patrons. Perhaps the gentleman who was refused a drink had been in the bar before and been thrown out for raucus behavior. If that was the case, refusing him service had nothing to do with his race. In other words, just becuase someone has darker skin, or is muslim, or jewish, or a woman, or whatever, doesn’t mean that the descrimination was born out of the fact that they are muslim, or jewish, or a woman, etc. It could be born from their earlier behavior. But, if it became clear that the man was refused service simply becuase of his race, then yes, something must be said. Probably something along the lines of, “I’m really dissapointed by your behavior. I hope it doesn’t reflect the values of this establishment. I won’t be patronizing this place anymore.”

  14. First let me say this, I live here in America, and my hope is that if they ever catch Bin Ladin that they don’t put him in jail. It would be a more fitting punishment to hand him over to the street gangs in New York City! Then he might get a tiny speck of what he deserves for what he did to so many families here. But that is just my humble opinion. That being said, I would have to ask the bartender if we are on Candid camera or something? Yes I would absolutely be upset with the bartender and he would know it. What people tend to forget in this county is that we are all newcomers. The only people who are not foreign here are the Native American’s. That man would have just as much of a right as anyone else to sit in that bar and have a drink with us. So if he has to leave then I would be out the door right behind him. We could all three just walk across the street and have a drink there!

  15. I arrived at your blog via StumbleUpon. Lots of great posts here!

    I would definitely, definitely tell the bartender off. I find it hard to describe to you exactly why — there are so many reasons. Perhaps my reaction is also affected by the fact that I have experienced racism against myself and I still feel the bitterness of those incidents acutely. Was the Arab misbehaving? Carrying arms? Disturbing the bar and its patrons in any way? If not, and if all he was doing was ordering himself a drink, whether dressed in traditional Arab dress or not, he deserved the respect due to all patrons of the bar. The bar rules may allow the bartender to choose who he serves, and this is a good thing because it empowers him to refuse drinks to people who are visibly drunk/violent — but it is also up to me to stand up for what I believe in, to stand up and be heard. To watch such patently unfair behaviour as a mute bystander would, for me, amount to abetting/allowing such treatment to be meted out to people based on racial/religious/other irrelevant cultural factors. It would be hard for me to live with that.

    I would also have no problem taking the issue to a higher-up/manager.

  16. I’d treat the situation same as if I saw a black/Mexican person being denied,if it wasn’t due to having too many drinks or whatever.

    If someone still thinks like a bigot in this day and age to that extent, I wouldn’t try changing their minds. Foremost in my mind, how can my group and the Arab keep having fun and not ruin a night out?

    I’d recruit my group to leaving and let the bartender know why we won’t ever be coming back.

    If I know of a rival bar maybe I’d yell out’Let’s go to….”see if I can get any other loss of revenue.

    I don’t see this any different from the integration of segregated restaurants in the South.

  17. I know I’m very late to reply on this topic. But after going through the question, couldn’t resist.

    First of all,in today’s globalized world,where we have an opportunity to know, understand various relegions, cultures and people and to conclude that all of them have lot of similarities, it appears very out-dated and ignorant to have biased views on people based on their race. To be indifferent to injustice is as bad as doing injustice itself.
    In one of the comments here, someone said it’s the sensitivity of people that makes people the way the bartender is. But I would say, it’s their insensitivity that does it.

  18. I would not say anything to the bar tender. But, I would look him dead in the eye as I “promptly” got up and left.

    Hopefully, the other guy might catch the silent protest, to show him not everyone in the world is an a$$hole.

    I just think if you say something to the bartender he will probably argue with you about it, and justify his angle, only serving to make the judgment stronger and more ingrained.

  19. I would have said something to the bar tender. Asked him why he didn’t serve the person a drink. Maybe he thought the man was intoxicated? If his refusal was based on race then I would’ve left the bar and gone some place else. Thanked him for the good conversation and then made a comment about why i was leaving.

  20. The expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is meant as advice for one to take oneself, not as a prescription to apply to other people. What you seem to be saying is, “Probably he isn’t even trying to pretend to look like everyone else, so he deserves what he gets.” Though the original story didn’t say what was meant by “a young man of Arab heritage”; who knows how the bartender knew? Maybe it wasn’t appearance at all.

    Not all societies, nor all people, automatically discriminate against those who look different, although I think it’s a natural human tendency. One worth overcoming. As Katharine Hepburn says to Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen”: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” I thought that a Victorian conceit when I first heard it, but the older I get, the truer it seems to me.

    Here’s an NPR “This I Believe” segment about what we do with our reaction to differences; enjoy:

  21. It seems to me the challenge here is how to approach this situation with compassion and openness instead of condemnation. As Quyen points out above, you don’t know why the bartender did that: maybe the bartender and the young man’s father are friends, and he’s trying to keep his friend’s son out of trouble.

    But even if the reason is something ugly, condemning or attacking the bartender is unlikely to improve things. Condemning the bartender publicly so you don’t look like an accomplice is an understandable impulse, but it’s ultimately self-centered: you get to save face, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem, whatever it may be.

    One of the benefits of developing ones’ spiritual muscles is that it pulls you out habitual and automatic responses, letting you respond creatively instead of reacting reflexively.

    That said, other than sitting choking on my own bile, I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation. Maybe just approach the bartender in a friendly way and say, “Hey, what was that about?” and see if I can start a conversation. Maybe in the same way I would if he were my brother. Because of course, he is.

  22. I’d have to say something. The bartender is not a ‘nice chap’. He’s a bigot, and, if he’s in the USA, and the Arab is of age and not drunk, he’s violating the man’s civil rights.
    No one should have to put up with that kind of behavior.
    I’d buy the Arab a beer myself. Any peaceful Arab in our country is likely on our side anyway.
    The Taliban don’t drink.

  23. It’s interesting how the dilemma specifically states: “The bartender promptly refuses to serve the man based on his race and asks him to leave.” Yet, most are looking for a loophole to consider that it wasn’t about race at all. Clearly, the one posing the dilemma has already figured this out, hence very clearly stating — in no uncertain terms — that it was, indeed, based on race!

    I wonder if we, as a global society, are afraid to deal with the fact that some people are flat out racist. Are we afraid to confront racism? Do we even recognize it when it’s staring us in the face? Or do we turn a blind eye and act like there’s some other explanation for what we know in our gut we’re witnessing? If we are uncomfortable dealing with racism and racist behaviors, if we second-guess a racists motives while sitting quietly on the sidelines contemplating excuses for his behavior are we, then, a part of the problem?

    I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I even play a game with myself sometimes, to consider at least 10 alternate explanations for a person’s behavior before I jump to conclusions. So, I understand where most of you are coming from here and I commend the effort. However, we can’t avoid the fact that the original question clearly states that his decision was “based on his race”. Can we deal with that directly without trying to justify his behavior with a mountain of other excuses? It is what it is…racism.

    So, how do we deal with it?

    I don’t mean to lecture, but I am really curious to know. Really.

  24. I don’t get why this is an ethical dilemma. It matters not to me what the bar’s policy is or why the bartender is being racist. The dilemma states clearly the reason is due to race. Had the dilemma stated only that the bartender promptly told the man he would not serve him and that he needed to leave, there could have been many possibilities for his doing so. For example, the man may have made a drunken ass of himself on a previous visit. However, since the dilemma states clearly that you, as the patron, know it was due to race, the only ethical thing to do is to state that it is wrong to refuse service to the man due to his ethnicity, pay your bill & leave. While I see no need to ask the Arab to go elsewhere for a drink, I would at least tell him I found it offensive despite it not being directed at me & that I am sorry there are people like that in the world. The bartender may have appeared to be a nice chap up until then, but that one action would be enough to demonstrate to me that he & I are definitely not on the same plane when it comes to racism & subsequently, he is not such a nice chap, after all.

  25. I would definitely ask the bartender what his problem was. That is just not right at all and they would lose my business. They did this scenario on 20/20 what would you do (one of my fav shows) and they had their actors that were mexicans and fake workers in a store. they had them walk in and had the workers say that they wouldn’t serve them. Some people stood up for them and said they wouldn’t buy anything there. But I remember this one group of guys actually went along with it and were like “if you don’t like it, get out of our country.” You might be able to find out more about it online but i’m not sure. It’s an awesome show tho it basically acts out these ethical dilemma’s and its interesting to see what people do.

  26. Even though its none of my business I would probably ask why? there are many reasons the bartender could have that deserves respect so assuming he is a racist bigot might land you in hot water,(or band from your local drinking hole). I think If you want to resolve racism in your society you should start with your own kids and or surrounding friends. cheers!
    ps, you should also ponder on how you a westener would be treated if you tried to order a drink in Iraq, Iran or afghanastan

  27. Since there was no question that this was an issue of rascism, it seems likely that the bartender made it clear by hurling some kind of insult at the man. From personal experience, I can tell you that to engage a rascist in discussion is an exercise in futility. I would simply turn to my friend and suggest we go somewhere else for the remainder of our evening. If the opportunity presented itself, I would speak to the young Arab man to tell him I am sorry he was treated that way.

  28. Well, At first I would be surprised as today in this world someone can still do this!!!

    I would tell the bartender something into a joky way that ‘the man is really thristy, give him some relief’ if nothing happen then scenarios open.

    For sure 1) i would leave the place and never go back
    2) would wonder as to what made me think he is nice chap? How I value people at their face value? or at their values?

    I do not accept racism. I would not even think there is matter of ethics into intervening or not. I would just leave.

  29. This is very interesting, specially because i am an Arab guy, but it doesn’t matter because that would happen to anyone from any race and from some Arabs as well.

    Actually the most of the replies were great specially the ones that say we should try to talk with him NICELY and REASONABLY to change his mind even if he has his reasons BUT i would like to add that it’s not an easy thing to change and it will really need A LOT of tries and i think the bartender worth it because he seemed to be a nice guy and we really don’t know the reason why he is racist, i recall a great American movie called “American History x”; it was about a man who had a lot of good traits but got raised by a racist father which made him racist, but then through circumstances and the attitude of a man from the race he disgusts, his attitude totally changed and he turned to be a totally different person.
    So it will need patience and persistance, but if you are not ready to do that and you don’t have the time then you should at least tell him that you don’t agree with him and leave because not saying anything may make him think that it’s a normal thing to do and that he is not alone in that.

    I would persoanlly try to talk to him because even if i failed to covince him, trying in itself is a virtue and maybe the cumulative tries from people will change him at last.

    And about not never going there again, that depends whether it’s a general attitude from the bar owners or just the bartender.

  30. I’d definitely say something. I would pull the bartender to the side and ask him why he was refusing to serve the Arab gentleman. If the refusal was racial, I’d ask him to reconsider. I’d also mention that, if he did not reconsider, I’d stop patronizing his bar and would make it my business to let everyone possible know why I took my business elsewhere.

  31. Nice reaction Christine, but i think it would be better if you didn’t speak with his arrogance by saying that you would stop if he didn’t reconsider, we are addressing him being racist by speaking about the idea of racism itself and it would be hard to achieve that by threatening because that may address his arrogance and not his mind, and also he might agree with you just for the sake of keeping other customers; but if he didn’t reconsider you may leave suddenly.

  32. why do you have a picture of sikhs in this post and your post refers to arabs? please be sure of what you post before you do that. the image you have used is of sikhs who not arabs. sikhs are NOT arabs. please know that. do your study. kindly take that picture off and put a more relevant one because it is adding to the ignorance of the american people.


  33. Hi Khalsa.

    Thanks for your comment. I am glad you noticed it. I have spent many years in India and have many Sikh friends.

    Part of the ethical dilemma in this situation was that the man in the bar was a Sikh but due to media brainwashing he was mistaken for an Arab.

    Interesting you are the first to pick this up.


  34. TDM

    i noticed because i am a sikh myself 🙂 and thank you for your reference about having sikh friends. did you know that the first (unfortunate) casualty of the 9/11 backlash was a a sikh american balbir singh sodhi? can you imagine how the mistaken identity and, to some extent, the ignorance still reeks through the american people who have least understood the sikh community that has been a part of their great country for well over 100 years now …


  35. Hi again Khalsa.

    You were the first person to pick up the photo being different to the story. I was hoping someone would as part of the dilemma, in this case, was that people are quick to judge and be racist just because people are different.

    My Sikh friend live in a town called Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh in India. Do you know it? There is a holy Buddhist lake there but the Sikhs also come as there is a place there that is special for them. I will never forget sitting and having tea with two Buddhist monks and a family of Sikhs and discussing both Buddhist and Sikh religions as brothers and sisters – completely open to both communities. It is not often you see that.


  36. We are not slaves in this country. It’s supposed to be a free country. No one should have to serve anyone they don’t want to, even though you think they should. If the bartender was not the owner, then it is his boss’s problem. Having said that, I agree it was not a nice thing, and I would have walked out, telling the bartender I was leaving on account of his behavior. You see, he has his rights, and I have my right not to participate in his boorish behavior.

  37. I haven’t read all the comments because there are way too many. So, please forgive me if this has been mentioned previously.

    Not all Arabs are Muslims. Is the bartender refusing to serve him because he “thinks” he knows this man is Arab (which leads to an altogether different question; can one really know another’s heritage by just looking at them? I doubt it.).

    Therefore, based on the false assumption that this man is “definitely” Arab, it leads to another false assumption: that he is Muslim.

    We all know where assumptions lead us most of the time. I would politely explain this to the bartender, then take it from there.


  38. But you can’t fight intolerance through assimilation.
    Saying he should shave his beard so as not to make the general population uncomfortable does nothing to solve the problems of intolerance. He should be free to do as he pleases, like the constitution tells him he can.

  39. based on his race?
    then i would definately say something. I would first of all apologise to the young man, saying sorry for the rudeness of my new ‘firend’ and then i would leave, telling the bartender that i dont want to be in a bar where people are judged based on their race or skin colour. Its unnacceptable, by saying nothing you then become as bad as the bartender himself.

    However if it seemed like the bartender knew the man and it was obvious there was PERSONAL conflict between them i.e. it has nothing to do with what he looks like, then it would be none of my business to make judgements. But the description of the dilemma does say based on his race so yeah, i’d leave

  40. I haven’t read all the answers, but I could not presume to tell the bartender how to run the business he is responsible for. It would be safe to assume that the bar has the usually “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” sign, although this is not stated. I do not know the person’s history in the bar, perhaps this arab guy had caused trouble in the past when I wasn’t around. I wouldn’t say anything, and continue with my evening.

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