I am a white supervisor in a large institution here in the so called "new South" and I am often astounded by the way in which white people continue to deny that casual racism is both practised and accepted. I wanted to relay a story told to me by a friend who is black and higher up in the food chain than me that illustrates this. She and I have been friends for a number of years. I am often considered the "weird one" at work by other white employees because when I call them on things they tell me I am "too sensistive" or that I don't "understand" Memphis because I am not from here.
My friend and three other black employees attended a a "leadership meeting" that involved several departments. Two of the three black employees are either supervisors of a shift like myself or Directors. Towards the end of the meeting they were all discussing an event they would be attending and my friend asked what forms of payment would be accepted: cash, check, or debit card and a white Director in another department added," or will food stamps be accepted." This was said loudly enough for all those present at the meeting to hear. My friend and her black colleagues were so shocked and angry that they decided to leave the meeting early.
It was decided that they would use the proper "chain of command" to express their displeasure. My Director, who is white, was approached and confessed that she did not "get" why they were angry. She suggested that since this was clearly an issue they felt strongly about that they have a meeting with the acting Director of the department we are all in. My friend was designated to attend the meeting since she is very articulate and the other affected employees were concerned that the anger they felt would have an effect on how they communicated. The "big boss" chided her for leaving the meeting early since she is in a leadership role and that is not how leaders behave. She also indicated to my friend that she " knows person X very well" and is "sure that no offense was intended" but that she should have a meeting with person X to express her concerns. After that meeting, my friend also had a brief meeting with HR and took some time to review the institution's harassment and abuse policy where it clearly states that an offense is present even if the person perpetuating it is not aware it was harmful and even if the "target" did not find it harmful and others did.
I want to offer my take on her experience and solicit some opinions from y'all.
I found the statement about "food stamps" comment racist and offensive. Even though I was not the target nor directly affected, I am distured that work in an environment where people in leadership positions can make such statements so freely. It makes me wonder what the person who made the statement says to white employees when black employees are NOT present and how the black employees she supervises regard her. I am a bit perturbed that my boss did not give my friend more overt support. My read on the "big boss" is that she reacted defensively by inidcating she "knew person X very well" and "nothing was intended" by the statement. How does she even know what was or was not intended? It seems to me that she was suprised that my friend even approached her with this and covered up by turning the tables on her and critiquing her decision to leave the meeting early.
I think the person who made the statement should be subject to some kind of disciplinary action so that others are aware that statements like this are not acceptable however they were intended. I believe the statement undermined my friend's position as a leader and that the person who made it resents seeing black empolyees in leadership positions. I fear other than a formal apology from the person who made the statetment not much will be done.
I understand that supressing "free speech" is a no no, but this happened in the workplace not on Daily Kos or out in a social setting. If I heard somebody say that at a party I would still be pissed and I would still find it racsist and I would confront it. My friend does not need my help other than to give support, she is an adult who is intelligent and articulate and can fight her own battles. I think she told me the story simply because she was puzzled by the lack of response from white colleagues and wanted my take.
What am I missing? Do you think this was a racist statement, and why or why not? It was clear to me, but apparently not so to other folks and I am generally pissed about it.