Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Blast from the Past - Whites Only

Despite my deep well of racial cynicism, I was until today convinced that never again would we experience certain particularly ugly aspects of our country's racist past again, except in the hallowed halls of a museum.

I was soooooooo wrong.

Today's news, fresh off the....well fresh outta Alabama, my favorite state in the entire union when it comes to reminding folks that America was originally intended to be a White Nation and that there are folks who are going to die trying to preserve that original intent:

Whites Only

According to this article, two Black folks have sued their employer, Tyson Foods, because they  were disciplined by management when they (rightfully) complained about workplace discrimination, including about a sign reading "Whites Only" that was posted on the bathroom.

It also said "Out of Order" at convenient times, apparently.

For those who would be inclined to dismiss this as yet another instance of people being "oversensitive", I would highlight that the suit is being brought in the name of the EEOC - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  You know that organization - the one that hasn't actually gone out of its way to protect workers since Clarence Thomas was put in charge under the watch of President Ronald Wilson Reagan? You know that agency - the one that practically requires photos of hooded KKK members in order to meet the high standard of proof required under Title VII for an employment discrimination claim?

It says a lot about how bad things must have been at Tyson Foods if the EEOC is the charging plaintiff.  

I realize that it's been a long time since I reminded folks about why you just gotta love 'Bama.  Allow me to wax poetic:

Reason #1: 'Bama Gets Rid of Anti-Miscegenation Parts of its Constitution - in the Year 2000

Most everyone knows the famous case of Loving v. Virginia.  The Loving Case was decided in 1971 and held that the right to marry was a fundamental human right, such that a state could not criminalize it in the case of interracial couples.  As a result of that case, the criminal convictions of an interracial couple (leave and never return to Virginia or face 25 years in jail) was overturned.  

What many people know is that there were a number of states that had anti-miscegenation requirements written into their state constitutions.  Many quietly dealt with these over the years.  Alabama, my mother's home state and the commonly-accepted birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, with its Montgomery Bus Boycott, still had one too, written into its state constitution in 1901.  

But what most folks don't know is that until 4 1/2 years ago, that constitutional provision still remained in the constitution of the state of Alabama.  Every other state had managed in 30 years to get rid of theirs, but not 'Bama.  Some enterprising folks whose emotions had actually moved into the 20th century decided that the state constitution sent the wrong message about how Alabamans felt about their segregationist past, so they qualified an an initiative on the ballot to have it removed.

It passed, but only by a 59-41% margin.  This means that in the year 2000, 2/5 of Alabamans believed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with having racial hatred still enshrined in the language of their  state constitution, no matter what those liberal activist judges at the US Supreme Court thought about interracial marriage.

You just gotta love 'Bama.

Reason #2:  Alabama Beats back the Boogeyman of Activist Judges to Retain the Mandate for Segregated Schools in its Constitution - in the Year 2004.

Just this past November, Alabama got another opportunity to remind everyone how committed it is to retaining its glorious past.  This last election, an "Amendment Two" appeared on the Alabama ballot.  The purpose of "Amendment Two" was to repeal moribund language still in the Alabama constitution which expressly prohibits integrated education in Alabama.  Now, the language is what we lawyers call "moribund", in the sense that it is unenforceable and was found unconstitutional decades ago by the Supreme Court.  Nonetheless the language remained there, and in the spirit of moving forward, someone put a proposition on the ballot that it be removed.  

It lost.  Even after a recount.  

(Do not believe any of the right-wing hype about public finance and tax increases being the reason that Amendment Two lost at the ballot.  That's utter BS, for two reasons.  First, and most directly, the disputed finance language, which denies that there is a constitutional right to a publicly funded education in Alabama, is moribund.  The law is clear - the state of Alabama has the same absolute duty to provide a public education as every other state.  Second, this particular language was part and parcel of the same legislation that added the provisions about segregated education.  In other words, the finance provision was put there to further, and guarantee, ongoing segregation.  It is existed for one reason, and one reason only -- as a financial means of depriving Black children of a public education following Brown v. Board of Education even if the direct segregationist provisions failed.)

If I've said it once I've said it a million times, you just gotta love 'Bama.

Reason #3:  Be a Boy, Shut Up and Dance (And Piss Outside) or Get Shitcanned

Then we have today's story, about Tyson Foods' chicken processing plant.  This is not a small employer, permitting a rogue thing.  There are 1,100 people working at that plant; 130,000 worldwide.

The Official EEOC Press Release on the Suit

Of course, Tyson says the entire thing is made up - it "found no evidence" that the Whites' Only signs ever existed:

Tyson's Official Response

(Notice they don't mention the segregated break rooms).

Now, you can believe that if you want to.  But if you do, then ask yourself this question:  why would a government watchdog agency that has been rendered almost completely useless over the past 20 years through a deliberate presidential policy of EEOC neglect first put in place by Ronald Reagan with his appointment of his HNIC, Clarence Thomas and then  continued by Dubbya with a vengeance decide to actually step up as the named plaintiff when it has more than 50,000 cases that are backlogged and it is contracting in size even as we speak due to budget starvation?

The thing about 'Bama is that racial issues are crystal clear in that state.  There is no statistically significant racial or ethnic population other than two:  white people, and Black people. However, in stark relief in this particular case is the Latino population of Ashland, which is where many of Alabama's few undocumented live and work - most notably at the Tyson chicken plant, which has been raided by the INS and for which Tyson has become one of the rare employers actually charged with conspiring to hire undocumented workers in violation of law.  Thus, in some ways racial conflict in 'Bama is a petri dish from which we can glean important lessons about how far this country has come in terms of anti-Black hatred -- and how far it hasn't come -- and what choices are being made by whites to address the 200% legitimate hell-raising that Black working folks do when they aren't treated fairly.  And who they look to when they need workers to shut up and dance because their 'Bama niggas no longer will, having already done 400 years of free duty.

So far, the petri dish is looking a little bubbly, green and I'm wondering if it's going rancid.  

One of the possible lessons is this:  if we are again seeing "Whites Only" and direct segregation in places like Alabama and corporate officers are spending more time publicly carping about being sued than about why the signs and locked bathroom could actually exist in 2005 without a complete worker shutdown of the plant and massive terminations of anyone and everyone who was responsible for it, we are seeing the future, which looks a lot like the past.  

For the record, this is not quite displaced paranoia on my part.  The bulk of my relatives on my mother's side still live in Alabama.  The stories they tell in their letters and phone calls suggest that things are getting worse, not better, when it comes to these things.  Folks have been getting bolder.  I don't think that's an accident.  One can make some strong arguments that the only difference between 'Bama and many other places in the country is that folks are a lot more ornery - and therefore a lot more honest when it comes to the ugliness of anti-Black hatred.

That should be of concern to everyone.

I'll be following this suit as it wends its way through, and hopefully can get the pleadings.

(Just for the record, I don't eat Tyson chicken.  But for those of you who do, perhaps you might want to check out someone else's for a while?)


At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, no Tyson's chicken for me.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's most disturbing to me, is how little this was discussed in the media. This should be shocking to everyone.


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