I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the month we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two recent racial incidents in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, and in Toledo, Ohio have garnered national attention.
Both incidents have two things in common. Both happened in a manufacturing setting. The other involved the most terrifying symbol of American racism: A noose.
That alone is affirmation that, despite the 50-plus years since civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King uttered the aforementioned iconic words that helped push the nation closer to his dream, the nation has regressed significantly in the last decade, especially in the last two years of the Trump presidency.
The Original Black Panthers of Milwaukee recently held a news conference to voice its outrage over an incident at Denco Manufacturing in New Berlin last month where a white employee there allegedly turned a work strap into a noose.
He handed it to a Black Denco employee and told him to stick his head in it.
“Once again, racism has reared its ugly head in the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee suburbs,” said King Rick, the leader of the Black Panthers during the news conference.
Though New Berlin police were called, no charges were filed or arrests made, and there will be no follow-up on the matter.
But Marlon Anderson, the Black “recipient” of the noose, is reportedly still reeling from the incident, for which he is now on administrative leave.
Anderson said he is now being evaluated by a psychologist “to see that I’m not going to hurt someone,” adding he reportedly admitted to his boss he had been carrying a screwdriver in his pocket for protection ever since the occurrence
Three hundred, thirty-four point eight miles away in Toledo, a similar incident happened, except it was a culmination of earlier racist actions against Black workers at a General Motors’ powertrain plant in that city.
Eight Black employees at the facility recently filed a lawsuit against the car manufacturer accusing plant managers of doing little to nothing to stop the racist comments, slights, and threats in a hostile workplace.
How hostile? The accounts read like a news story from the bad old days of the Jim Crow South…except it was in the north…in Ohio…in 2018 that these incidences took place.
The Black litigants complained of bathrooms being for “whites only,” Black supervisors were denounced as “boy” and ignored by their subordinates, Black employees were called “monkey,” or told to “go back to Africa.”
Black employees at the GM plant were warned a White colleague’s “daddy” was in the Ku Klux Klan, and White workers wore shirts with Nazi symbols underneath their coveralls.
One Black male supervisor said when he reported the racist slurs and insubordination to his superiors, he was told to deal with it himself and “counsel” the workers who use the slur. The Black supervisor said he took upper management’s inaction to mean he should be glad he was at the plant, to just “deal with it.”
The Black workers also noted there was a coded language to talk about them, according to the lawsuit. White employees would call all the Black employees “Dan.” They learned later “Dan” was an acronym for “dumb ass (N-word).”
There were also violent situations Black employees had to deal with that upper management did not address. Said the Black supervisor, Marcus Boyd, highly placed management and union officials work together to protect people who are White.
“It was like being at war,” Boyd reportedly said. Another worker, Derrick Brooks, found a noose hanging in the area where he regularly works one day. He believes it was put there to intimidate him because he was the only Black employee on his shift working when he found the noose.
Eventually five nooses where reportedly found by Black employees at the plant. Because of the “underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying,” the employees filed their suit.
As what generally happens when business owners and upper executives are confronted by accusations of racism within its businesses, Denco Manufacturing and GM either denied the charges or claimed they took the allegations “seriously” and are committed to creating a safe and inclusive workplace where all employees are “respected” regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or religious belief.
The aforementioned is what Denco reportedly said in response to the incident with Anderson. The company said it contacted and cooperated fully with the police investigation while conducting one of its own.
Not surprisingly, neither entity found any evidence of wrongdoing, that it found “regrettable” a “troubling misunderstanding occurred.”
Denco also stressed the alleged behavior has “no place at our company,” and that as they move forward, they will “conduct a formal review of our policies and will reaffirm our expectations of all employees. “We care deeply about the wellbeing of all our employees. However, we are obligated by law and company policy to maintain their confidentiality.”
The alleged perpetrator has been moved to a different shift from Anderson. As noted, no further disciplinary action was cited in the New Berlin Police report.
Like Denco, GM also released a statement of mia culpa. The car manufacturer reportedly stated everyone with the company is expected to uphold a set of values that are “integral to the fabric of our culture.
“Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and are in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work,” the statement read. The statement continued: “We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive. General Motors is taking this matter seriously and addressing it through the appropriate process.”
The car manufacturing company would not address the lawsuit on the record after publishing its statement. The union at the plant denied that any of its practices were discriminatory. Dennis Earl, local president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), reportedly said: “Union people protect employees no matter what race, ethnicity.”
However, an investigation of other complaints by the Ohio Civil Rights “racially hostile environment,” with one investigator saying it’s one of the worst cases of racist behavior she had seen.
Though GM claims to have taken appropriate action, the Ohio civil rights investigator said they found just the opposite. One example came from a former union president’s testimony.
At a meeting to address the placing of nooses a white supervisor bemoaned “too big of a deal” was being made. That same supervisor reportedly went on to say, “There was never a Black person who was lynched that didn’t deserve it.”
Both Boyd and Brooks have since left GM, taking jobs that pay a lot less and returning to school to prepare for other careers. Racist incidences continue to happen at the GM Toledo plant. And the company hasn’t identified who was responsible for the nooses, and claim it has an on-going and extensive anti-discrimination, anti-harassment initiative at all its plants with the cooperation of the union.
Milwaukee Panther leader King Rick wonders why there hasn’t been any outrage from Black elected officials and community activists who he calls “fake?” “You pick and choose what you are upset and angry about,” King Rick said in a Facebook posting about the Denco incident. He added Black leadership has been as quiet and church mice.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”