Last month, a barbecue restaurant in Milliken, Colorado, called Rubbin' Buttz announced that June 11 would be known as "White Appreciation Day," much to the chagrin of everyone with brains and a sense of outrage. Initially, the terms of White Appreciation Day dictated that white customers would receive a 10 percent discount, but after a wave of bad press, the restaurant announced that everyone would be getting a discount, not just white people. Milliken is an hour north of my home in Denver, so I decided to head up and see what WAD was all about.
According to recent census data, Milliken is 82.1 percent white. The drive up was telling. Once I left Denver city limits the road became a two-lane highway lined with cow pastures and dotted with large Evangelical churches. As I pulled into town, I imagined being greeted by a large "White Appreciation Day" banner and a line of camouflage stretching around the restaurant. Although a bomb-sniffing dog had done a sweep of the Rubbin' Buttz property that morning, it seemed White Appreciation Day was being celebrated without much fanfare or protest.
The place was sparsely populated with pink-faced elderly people. I counted two camouflage outfits, an eagle shirt with cutoff sleeves, an old white man in red suspenders, a pair of overalls, and one non-white person (aside from myself)—an elderly black man who was on his way out as I walked in. Of the five employees, only one was white. The rest were Latino. I wondered what it was like for them serving white customers on White Appreciation Day. Would tips be worse than usual because of white entitlement? Or would white guilt drive tips up? These questions swirled through my head while I waited for a menu.
The restaurant was meekly kitsch. Wood panel walls, burlap curtains, a fake lasso, horse shoes, POW MIA flags, and a "Hippies Use Backdoor" sign hung on the walls. It felt forced. I sat in the back of the restaurant so I could observe. Coincidentally, this also happened to be the table next to the bathrooms. At some point it must've struck my waitress how fucked up it was to have a non-white person in the restaurant seated in the back next to the bathroom on White Appreciation Day and she offered to move my table.
At my new booth, I read the menu and gagged at "Frito pie," a combination of chilli, cheese, and a bag of Fritos, a food item I thought only existed on King of the Hill. I decided against ordering a whole meal and instead opted for a slice of the fudge cake. As I watched the restaurant, I noticed a lack of WAD promotion. The large chalkboard behind the counter had no mention of it, and most of the customers didn't seem to be aware that today was a special holiday.
Halfway into my cake, an obese white man with a beard and overalls, hobbling on a walking stick, opened the door and bellowed, "I'm here for White Appreciation Day!" with a broad grin on his face. He shook the owner's hand and started to talk about a T-shirt he was having made—all I caught of the description were the words "I am the infidel."
As my white waitress stopped to check on my table, I asked her if it was White Appreciation Day. She exasperatedly rolled her eyes and responded yes. I asked why. As if to deflect responsibility, she pointed at the restaurant owner and said, "It was Edgar the owner's idea. He wanted it."
Edgar Antillon, a second generation Mexican-American, is the owner of Rubbin' Buttz BBQ and the founder of White Appreciation Day. Why would a man of Mexican heritage start White Appreciation Day? The obvious answer is to drive business and appeal in a predominantly white town. But a cursory listen to Antillon's reasons for founding White Appreciation Day reveal his motivations aren't that of a money-grubbing businessman. Instead, Antillon earnestly thinks that because other races have commemorative months and holidays, white people should at least get one day to call their own.
Outside of Rubbin Buttz, Antillon seems to consider himself an instructor and political activist. According to EdgarAntillon.com, Antillon faced many (unnamed) obstacles in youth and "was able to accomplish what many never thought he could." Among his listed accomplishments are losing both his 2010 and 2014 Republican bids for the Colorado House of Representatives and campaigning for Mitt Romney in 2012. Antillon is also the founder of the "Guns for Everyone" organization. His group's political aim is to expand gun rights by making concealed handgun permits more easily obtainable. He is also the co-director of the misleadingly named Colorado Campaign for Equal Rights, which according to his site is a "campaign to add an initiative to the 2016 ballot. The initiative would allow legal marijuana users to obtain a concealed handgun permit."
Antillon and his conservatism represent a form of politics white America is familiar and comfortable with. It bends the knee and acquiesces to the status quo. It's the kind that avoids making white people feel discomfort at all costs. "Your struggle is valid and equal," it reassures them. As a person of color, I've always felt betrayed by conservative politicians of color. To me, non-white political conservatism is not just ideological assimilation but begging white approval, and Antillon was doing it with the subtlety of a man on his knees holding a hand-painted sign. With his restaurant devoid of any of his culture of origin and his politics reeking of conservative libertarianism, Antillon had done well for himself in white man's land. It's easy to see why conservative libertarianism and bootstrap-isms appealed to him.
Antillon told VICE that White Appreciation Day was "very positive—absolutely nothing negative about it." He claimed his intent was to "expose the double standards we have created in society... I'm trying to highlight the fact that we are trying to demonize every single white person for everything that's wrong with the entire world." As to the accusations of racism on his part, he said, "For somebody who doesn't talk to me, it's going to look racist. I know my intentions." He also claimed that his restaurant benefitted financially from the stunt, saying that Rubbin' Buttz "quadrupled" a normal day's revenue.
As Antillon and the patron who came for White Appreciation Day continued their conversation I finished my mass-produced fudge cake, the density of the chocolate crust giving away its factory origins. The bill came. As promised, 10 percent had been taken off the total.
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