A mother is demanding action from a local Wendy’s after her 7-year-old daughter found a racist note inside her kids’ meal, implementing a call-in to the fast-food chain on Wednesday after staging a protest Tuesday night.
When Manige Osowski picked up dinner with her family at a Colorado Wendy’s on Thursday, her oldest daughter (pictured above) was excited to play with the toy in her kids’ meal, which was supposed to be a playground tag game. Instead, when the girl got home and opened her toy package, she found a deck of cards.
“It was weird, since it wasn’t supposed to be there to begin with, but she was excited because we could play Go Fish,” Osowski tells Yahoo Parenting. But as she dealt the cards for a family card game, Osowski’s daughter asked an unexpected question. “She said, ‘Mom, what does n—a mean?’ And I looked at her cards and just said ‘We need to pack up our things and go back to the store.’”
Manige Osowski’s daughter found this card, with derogatory terms including the n-word, in her Wendy’s kid’s meal. (Photo: Manige Osowski)
Osowski says that one of the cards in the deck had the n-word, as well as other derogatory terms, written on it. “I was horrified by what it said, but it was more confusing than horrifying,” Osowski says. “None of it made any sense. Why would someone replace a child’s toy with something blatantly racist and then put it in a child’s meal?”
Upon arriving back at the Wendy’s, Osowski says she spoke to a manager who apologized and called the cards “disgusting,” but didn’t seem surprised by what he saw. “He just turned around and yelled to the employees in the back, ‘You guys need to quit playing your games, I deal with you later,’” Osowski says. After demanding an explanation rather than just an apology, Osowski says the manager took the offending card, ripped it up, and headed to the back to retrieve phone numbers for district managers she could talk to. When she demanded her card back, the manager said he’d already thrown it out and ultimately called the police when Osowski refused to leave without the evidence of her mistreatment, she says. She never found out which employees were responsible for sneaking the cards into her daughter’s dinner bag, but was removed from the store by police who Osowski says reported her for “suspicious activity.” Her 7- and 4-year-old daughters witnessed the entire exchange.
“I shouldn’t have been removed by the police — I didn’t throw anything or come over the table, I wasn’t threatening,” she says. “I was just waiting for them to bring me something that was mine. This was inappropriate, appropriate action needed to be taken, and this guy had just disposed of the card in question.”
Manige Osowski’s 4-year-old daughter, with a sign from a Wendy’s protest on Wednesday. (Photo: Manige Osowski)
Bob Bertini, a spokesperson for Wendy’s, says the company has handled the situation. “Our core values as a brand are around treating people with respect and doing the right thing,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “Once we learned of the situation, we conducted an immediate investigation and acted immediately. The two employees involved are no longer working for Wendy’s. We have reached out on two occasions and have formally apologized to the people involved. As a company we serve thousands of people each day with different backgrounds and from different walks of life. It was totally inappropriate and we took immediate action.”
Osowski says she did get two phone calls from Wendy’s officials explaining that the employees had been fired, but that more needs to be done. “Firing them does not make amends to my family or my child who is now very aware that racism exists around every corner,” Oswoski says. “I am an adult so I understand what is going on in this country, but my 7- and 4-year-old should have no concept of that, and this store just exposed them, unprovoked, to what racism looks like.”
On the night of the incident, Osowski says her older daughter asked what the n-word meant. “I said, ‘Remember we talked about slavery?’ She said yes, and I said, ‘This is one of the words they used back then to make black people feel bad.’ She said, ‘Why did they give it to me?’ and I told her I didn’t know. I said that sometimes there are mean people and we don’t know that they’re mean until they say something they shouldn’t.”
Osowski says her daughter has brought up the incident since. “She says it’s not fair that people can be mean to you just because you are brown,” she says. “And she thinks it’s not fair that she didn’t get her toy.”
Madeleine Rogin, an educator who developed the Peaceful Changemakers Curriculum as a way of teaching young children about social justice, says that parents should indeed appeal to a child’s sense of fairness when explaining incidents like this. “That sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, that is where their brains are,” Rogin tells Yahoo Parenting. “Especially for kids who are victims, we need to reinforce that no, it isn’t fair, it’s not OK, and it’s never OK. We need to explain that this is a problem that has been in our country for a long time, and is still the present reality for some people, which is wrong.”
The important thing is starting a discussion, Rogin says. “It’s not as if we live in a colorblind world where we can say, ‘It doesn’t matter that we are different, let’s not talk about it,’ because it does matter,” she says. “The problem that happens a lot is that kids are told ‘we are all the same,’ and then they go out in the world and see that there is inequality and start to wonder what that means. We need to bring it out in the open and explain that it’s a reminder that there are still wrong ideas around race that exist, and then we need to encourage our kids to take actions to make change.”
On Tuesday night, Osowski staged a protest against the local Wendy’s, and on Wednesday she is implementing a call-in to urge the fast-food chain to take appropriate action. That includes sending a formal written apology to the family, comprehensive anti-racism training for employees, and an effort on behalf of Wendy’s to make amends to Osowski’s daughters.
“I don’t know what that looks like, but that’s not my responsibility,” she says. “I’m sure this company has a team of people who can figure out an age-appropriate way to make amends. Maybe that is meeting my daughters at a store and a nice person getting down on one knee and talking to them and explaining what happened — that two mean people did something very wrong. It’s really that simple, but it doesn’t have to be that. I am not the one who did something wrong, so I feel like there’s no reason I should be left holding the baggage and they can say, ‘There’s nothing more we can do.’”
(Top photo: Manige Osowski)