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Black Lives Matter (at work)

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In the months since the many protests of Black Lives Matter, there has been a society-wide discussion about the issues BLM has raised. This discussion has happened, most visibly, on television, and the comment sections of news sites or Facebook. But they have also been happening at work. The Organizer asked members of the Twin Cities IWW about what kind of conversations have come up at work, and here are a couple responses.

Aaron, call center worker

Black Lives Matter, but maybe not so much to my weight-lifting, protein-shake consuming coworker. We work together in a call center, and now that we’ve escaped from our busy season, we have a lot of downtime. Most of my conversations with this well-meaning guy, whom I’ll call Andrew, center around sports, particularly the inadequacies of all of Minnesota’s various teams. The day after a grand jury in Missouri failed to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, however, our lighthearted banter took on a decidedly more serious tone.

Andrew is the epitome of a suburban guy: polos and khakis are his fashion, clean shaven and well groomed is his face, and simple are his thoughts. Andrew doesn’t like talking about politics or current events and finds reading the news depressing. So it was very out of the ordinary to hear him talk about something like the Michael Brown case. Predictably, his argument went along the lines of “Michael Brown committed a crime, police have to do their jobs, Michael Brown shouldn’t have run at Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s race is totally unrelated to this shooting.” I’m a Wobbly in secret at my job, so I tried to keep my arguments about systemic racism and classism to a minimum. Instead, I asked Andrew questions. Would Michael Brown be dead if he were white? Would Darren Wilson have been indicted if he were black?

My asking him questions didn’t radically change his opinion, but he did become noticeably quieter and more contemplative after. The talk of sports dropped off for a time, and he was bringing up the issue of racist policing regularly. I think forcing Andrew to really examine his reaction to the case, to come up with actual reasons for why he supported Wilson and labeled Brown as nothing but a dead criminal, was a small victory. He might be a meathead, but at least he’s one who reconsidering his complacency with a system that so completely devalues the lives of people of color.

Juan, warehouse worker

When the BLM stuff first started getting coverage, especially locally, people in general took a cautious approach conversationally at my work. As the protests became more disruptive, people’s opinions became more obvious. Not a huge surprise, but there were major racial differences when it came to how BLM has been viewed. White coworkers were some of the most vocal and scathing critics, saying a lot of what we’re familiar with by now. More than one of them claimed they would run down protesters in their car if they personally came across them, blocking the street. One of my white coworkers repeated this even though I told him that I and many people I know have been going to the rallies. We got into a pretty heated argument which ended with me threatening to snatch him out of his minivan if I saw him creeping up behind a BLM rally. This may seem harsh, but multiple people have attempted to ram their vehicles through marches here and I think expressing an intent to do so is a death threat.

Although many of my white coworkers were anti-BLM, I was pleasantly surprised by one older guy who is part of my social circle at work. He drives a Harley, lives in a trailer park and used to live a pretty rough life. Assumptions might tell you that he would be the type who is most against a movement like BLM. But to the contrary, he always asked me about the marches and rallies and was excited to hear that people were willing to stand up to police brutality.

My black coworkers have been almost all passively or vocally supportive. They talk about the marches positively and don’t let the disruptive nature of them get in the way of that support, unlike many of the whites. One black coworker even went to the Mall of America rally, and was excited and enthusiastic to tell me about it. He was one of the few people I told about the rallies and marches beforehand, and then described them the next day. Interestingly, he cites my example of attending this stuff as motivation for him volunteering in the search for Barway Collins, a young black kid who had gone missing. I didn’t immediately get the connection, but it does make sense. To him, the BLM movement isn’t just about police brutality, it is about the affirmation of young black lives, no different than volunteering in a community wide effort to locate a missing child. I think this unintentional lesson I learned from my coworker was important and humbling.