More room at the inns

October 16, 1997|By Roger Clegg

I RECENTLY received a letter from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), listing the results of the organization's "Economic Reciprocity Hotel Industry Initiative." Attached was a ''report card'' on the hotel industry and a longer ''consumer choice guide.''

The idea of the initiative was to rate the performance of 16 major hotel chains, based on the percentage of black people or DTC black-owned businesses in five categories:

Employment; equity and franchise ownership; vendor relationships; advertising and marketing; and philanthropy ("an equitable percentage of the annual giving should go to efforts which serve the African-American community").

Since blacks represent 13 percent of the population, grades were allocated on this basis: 0 to 5.9 percent was ''poor''; 6 percent to 9.9 percent, ''needs improvement''; 10 percent to 13.9 percent, ''good''; and 14 percent and above was ''excellent.''

The data in the survey apparently came from the hotel chains themselves, all but one of which ultimately agreed to participate.

All participating hotels received a 5-point curve ''as a measure of good faith.'' Marriott received the highest grade, but it was only a C-plus.

According to an NAACP press release, Doubletree Hotels Corp., Choice Hotels International and HFS, Inc., have gone ''beyond participating in the survey and have developed plans to improve their grades. These hotels have agreed to periodic monitoring by the NAACP.''

Best Western ''balked at providing information'' and received an F (Holiday Inn and Westin initially balked, too, but eventually cooperated).

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume has called on blacks to ''leverage our clout to reward our friends and punish our enemies.''

African-Americans ''spend significant dollars'' on lodging but ''have received little return," he complained. "It is high time for a little reciprocity in the hotel industry."

Mr. Mfume warned the industry: ''If you want our dollars, you must establish goals and work actively to achieve them. We are grading your progress and will disseminate your grades to the public.''

There is one good thing to be said about the NAACP's initiative. It is, at least, a project by a private organization aimed at other private organizations. As such, it is less objectionable than many of the NAACP's other activities these days, such as supporting government-mandated racial preferences.

But the mere fact that an activity is private doesn't make it unobjectionable. And make no mistake about it, what the NAACP has done is encourage boycotts aimed at coercing hotels into establishing and meeting racial quotas in every area in which they do business. This may be legal, but it is also wrong.

Consider the consequences if every racial and ethnic group shared the NAACP's obsession with race and proportional representation. The boycotts would be constant.

Unequal interest

In part, this is because there is no reason to think that the members of every racial and ethnic group are all equally interested in participating in every sector of our economy.

Perhaps it turns out that relatively few blacks are interested in advertising for hotels, or relatively few Asians want to be longshoremen, or relatively few Lithuanians want to be dentists. There is nothing wrong with that, and it makes it silly for self-appointed spokesmen for each group to insist that they nonetheless have their proportionate representation in each profession.

If the NAACP is correct that a group's ''under-representation'' ought to be corrected, then it follows that ''over-representation'' must be a problem, too. But, according to its own material, the NAACP apparently would give an A-plus to a hotel that over-represented blacks.

What is most remarkable about the NAACP initiative is that nowhere in the cover letter, the report card, the guide or the NAACP's Web site is there any suggestion that this program is aimed at stopping discrimination.

Indeed, it ought to be recognized that the whole premise of the NAACP's initiative is that blacks can bring economic pressure to bear on hotels because an African-American can check into any hotel room he likes.

This wasn't always the case. Times have changed, and so has the NAACP. Now its objection is that race is not being taken into account.

Roger Clegg is general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington think tank.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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