It's no secret that Black people are generally thought to be bad tippers. Actually, "bad tippers" is being kind. If there was a scale listing every demographic from best to worst, we (Blacks) would rate last, and this stereotype seems to transcend class, station, and situation. If personal anecdote is any indication, the stereotype may be rooted in truth. I've witnessed numerous friends, family, and colleagues leave substandard tips when both the food and the service were on point, including the time a friend with a six figure income left a $1 tip on a $70 meal (and this Negro had the nerve to leave a smiley face next to the $1). While that's just one (extreme) example, I'd wager that a quick survey of bartenders, waitresses, and others in the service industry would tell you that behavior is more the norm than the exception.
So, why are we such bad tippers? I have no concrete answers, but I do have a few theories.
1. Insufficient education about tipping
On the basis of the "Blacks are bad tippers" perception actually being true, perhaps this phenomenon is due to us just not being aware of proper tipping etiquette. Admittedly, I wasn't even aware you're supposed to tip bartenders until I was 25 or 26, and I suspect I'm not alone. It's not like there are any courses you can take on when to tip and how much to tip when you do, and it's not like bad tippers get corrected often. I doubt there are many servers out there who'll run out the restaurant and track down the cat who gave them a $4 tip on a $60 meal.
It's possible that many bad (Black) tippers are just stuck in a cocoon with other bad tippers, completely oblivious to the world of the 20 percenters. What they fail to realize is that tipping isn't an option. It's a social requirement when dining out, and 15% is the baseline for just adequate service. If the service is so bad that you feel a tip wouldn't be appropriate, you need to contact the manager. Plus, many servers make less than $3 an hour, and tips are factored in as part of their income. If they're bringing food to your table, the least you can do is help them put food on theirs.
2. People seek to confirm beliefs they already hold
It's very possible that the perception is driving the stereotype, instead of it being the other way around.
Basically, if I'm aware Black people are thought to be bad tippers, I'm going to be more sensitive to any example of Black people tipping badly—evidence that would confirm thoughts I already had. It's really no different than the person who swears all Black men are dating White women, and takes the three interracial couples they see at the mall as proof—ignoring the 25 Black-on-Black couples they also walked past.
3. "Bad tipping" = "An opportunity to stick it to the man/feel superior"
Of the theories presented today, I think this is the least likely to be true. But, it would be disingenuous to ignore the possible racial politics that could be at play here.
Perhaps there are some Black people who look at tipping as a minor but still tangible way to thumb their noses at the establishment—represented in the form of service people who often happen to be White. Basically, whether it's race or class based (or both), it's an opportunity to assert some sort of dominance and/or receive "payback." The bad tip serves as a culmination of them making the dining experience as stressful as possible for the people unfortunate enough to be waiting on them, the final "Eff you!"
4. We get less-than-good service because of our tipping rep
Yes, it's no secret that Black people are thought to be bad tippers. You know what's even less of a secret? For the last, I don't know, 400 or so years, Black people have been on the receiving end of some pretty bad treatment. And, although you can no longer legally discriminate, this bad treatment has extended to restaurants and bars, where we still often get treated differently than our White counterparts.
What ends up happening is a loop of circular behavior where Blacks have been traditionally discriminated against, Blacks expect to be treated poorly and treat servers with disdain, servers treat Black patrons with less care because they "know" Blacks tip poorly, and Blacks continue to tip poorly because they continue to get substandard service.
How exactly do we solve this problem? Well, there are no easy answers, but we can start by…wait. Let me stop right there. That's a lie. There is an easy answer:
If you do go out, tip. If you don't want to tip, stay home.