Skip to main content

There's been a few diaries today about unemployment among African Americans, so I decided to post my experience with the subject. My experience was humbling, and changed the way I think about the economics of race. (sorry, this diary is a little long)

Rewind back to spring, 2007. The Great Recession hadn't "officially" begun yet according to Wall Street economists, but here in Ohio the recession was already very real. Jobs were becoming scarce, especially in the manufacturing sector. LTV Steel closed down, Rubbermaid sent many of their jobs to China, GM in Lordstown was building fewer cars, the list goes on and on. Many of the employers who stayed in Ohio became greedy and opportunistic, because they had the upper hand in this situation and they knew it. Luckily, I was employed by the war, cutting Humvee doors out of armor plate to send to the Army and Marines. I was employed by high gas prices too, cutting railroad parts when there weren't any orders going to the military.

My co-workers elected me union steward for the nightshift. My shift was made up of mostly older men, about two thirds of them were black. Though we came from different backgrounds we learned to trust each other, which is necessary in a dangerous job in the steel industry. One day the boss introduced me to a new hire, an older black man, who I will refer to as Mike. (name changed) At first, Mike struggled somewhat adjusting to his job moving stacks of 24-foot long steel plate with an overhead crane, which is an entry-level position, but also a difficult, dangerous one. I liked Mike so I offered to train him on the crane as he helped me on my machine.

Mike had lots of interesting stories, he talked in his thick southern accent about growing up in Alabama. His family were sharecroppers, (and yes, he had to explain to me what that was.) I learned in school about the existence of Segregation and Jim Crow, about Rosa parks and drinking fountains labeled "Colored". But Mike talked about his friends being beaten up, about white people throwing rocks and bottles at them from cars. "They was for real" Mike said, "They wanted to kill us!" This was not the sterilized version of Black History had been taught in my nearly-all-white high school every February, and it was an eye-opener for me. He talked about being a mailman in Detroit, but since he came to Ohio, Mike had trouble finding long-term employment, and my co-workers had had a theory as to why that was the case: "It's his raggedy mouth" one guy said, referring to Mike's thick accent. "They'll walk him right out of here before you know it." But Mike was a good worker, so I thought there was no way they would fire him just because of his background, just because of his race.

The boss started to complain to me about Mike a lot. Since I was helping to train Mike I worked with him to address those problems, to improve his skills on the crane, but the boss's complaints kept coming. One day I came in, and my boss, the dayshift boss, plant manager and HR lady called me over to the office. They told me that Mike was going to be "let go" in two days, conveniently a Friday. They said it was for "poor work performance", and mentioned that Mike had brought a discrimination lawsuit against a previous employer, and that he was a "troublemaker". I was only notified because I was the union steward, and it was made clear that if I told Mike or anyone else, I could be terminated as well. So the next two days I had to work with Mike, and he knew something was wrong. It was extremely hard to keep my mouth shut. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I pleaded with the boss to keep Mike, but it was a done deal. I called the union office, and they told me there was nothing they could do, that Mike could file a grievance with the local after he was fired, but it was unlikely that he could keep his job.

That Friday Mike came in, and the boss sent him packing before he could even get to the locker room. Mike asked me "Did you know? Did you know?" and I couldn't lie. I had to tell him I knew all that time and couldn't do anything. I told Mike I would do whatever I could to help, and gave him my phone number. But he said he's heard it before and never called me, never filed a grievance at the local, so I filed one on his behalf. One my co-workers came up to me and said "You know why that man was fired."

"I know now", I said. "He was fired because he's black."
"And that raggedy mouth." the guy added, "No way they would let him stay here." I thought back to all the new guys that got fired since I became steward. Sure enough, most of them were black, and more of the white guys stayed. That day the men I worked with talked about how hard it is for a black man to get a job, to make an honest living. Until then, having grown up in a little town that was 99% white, I naively thought that racial discrimination in the workplace was a thing of the past, that it wasn't a widespread problem. But it happened right there in front of me, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do. I told the guys that how angry and frustrated I was that my attempts to stop such an injustice from occurring were futile.

"Don't you forget what happened here, at this place, on this day." one guy said. I'll never forget what happened that day, when a man who wanted an honest job was turned away because of his race and his accent.

Originally posted to Broke And Unemployed on Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 08:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and White Privilege Working Group.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

a gilas girl, Kimberley, Renee, Tookish, JekyllnHyde, Angie in WA State, Cederico, nofundy, northsylvania, Laura Clawson, Sean Robertson, MadRuth, decisivemoment, decembersue, mwm341, Ivan, Geenius at Wrok, Nina Katarina, Emerson, Shockwave, Aspe4, Mlle L, oysterface, xynz, x, Woody, cskendrick, BlackSheep1, RabidNation, Pithy Cherub, jaysunb, shanikka, roses, sberel, Nate Roberts, admiralh, wader, Texknight, NMRed, SneakySnu, liz dexic, emmasnacker, Virago, MA Liberal, susie dow, wdrath, niteskolar, dwahzon, Chirons apprentice, Sychotic1, houyhnhnm, never forget 2000, lcrp, Exurban Mom, nswalls, zerelda, bibble, Maggie Pax, Armand451, wolverinethad, TexH, sawgrass727, bloomer 101, Bluesee, marina, Ckntfld, Unit Zero, yuriwho, Scoonie, JanetT in MD, Heiuan, Jensequitur, Chinton, chidmf, YucatanMan, Kevskos, boofdah, majcmb1, Dr Squid, Frank Palmer, Sun Tzu, HugoDog, GreyHawk, ladybug53, markdd, babatunde, onanyes, LucyandByron, Aint Supposed to Die a Natural Death, neroden, SSMir, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, Mr Bojangles, pengiep, Lefty Coaster, blueoasis, global citizen, StrayCat, JVolvo, bleeding heart, Turbonerd, a small quiet voice, doingbusinessas, suspiciousmind, zedaker, shaharazade, Statusquomustgo, Johnathan Ivan, illusionmajik, Nulwee, krwheaton, Cali Techie, dotsright, dmh44, verso2, MikeTheLiberal, ColoTim, gloriana, EdSF, edsbrooklyn, terabytes, Shadowmage36, bnasley, kingyouth, Uberbah, millwood, Moderation, jhop7, journeyman, cacamp, trueblueliberal, TomP, rogerdaddy, bkamr, AnnieJo, Senor Unoball, Sharon Wraight, mikeconwell, senilebiker, Cassandra Waites, Seamus D, S C B, petulans, Blogvirgin, nokkonwud, allie123, Diogenes2008, lissablack, ZhenRen, maggiejean, multilee, aufklaerer, ARS, not a cent, Discipline28, An Affirming Flame, cantelow, janmtairy, jennylind, CamillesDad1, regster, DefendOurConstitution, unspeakable, virginwoolf, COwoman, Denise Oliver Velez, sfarkash, aberghuis, Little Flower, jan0080, Dragon5616, Maori, Adept2u, Edge PA, Larsstephens, commonmass, rosecar, coppercelt, mamamorgaine, p gorden lippy, Vacationland, eXtina, Observerinvancouver, vixenflem, amk for obama, princss6, angelajean, TealTerror, appledown, ribletsonthepan, pixxer, dlemex, ramara, cai, sharonsz, Betty Pinson, roystah, Otteray Scribe, petesmom, science nerd, Oh Mary Oh, not4morewars, Actbriniel, mallyroyal, okliberal, Jasel, redlum jak, the mom in the middle, nicethugbert, jardin32, freesia, La Gitane, Miss Myers, Jose Bidenio, FarWestGirl, asterkitty, stonedoubt, imokyrok, Aranfell, cama2008, boophus, Ace Nelson, sasidechick, BarackStarObama, smoothnmellow, tardis10, worldlotus, rexymeteorite, Keori, yaque, chira2, mali muso, Strange New World, Jantman, blue aardvark, AJPIII, SteelerGrrl, Regina in a Sears Kit House, T100R, longtalldrink, Dom9000, brown and blue all over, jacey, Anti Em, GenXangster, JTinDC, ettajamesfan, Flying Goat, isabelle hayes, bozepravde15, IndieGuy, Poetic Mind, SilverWillow, tb92, a2nite, Deep Texan, FloridaSNMOM, congenitalefty, peachcreek, Tyler R, teabaggerssuckbalz, belinda ridgewood, BobSmith415, Ana Thema, radical simplicity, beefydaddy18, MartyM, doroma, Ezekiel Zachariah Foster, S M Tenneshaw, GAladybug, evergreen2, UnionDaughter, Sue B, allensl

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site