Category Archives: race in the workplace

The Curious Evolution of the Sign Spinner

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner.  These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies.  Some of them were pretty cool, actually.

Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign.  Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner.  But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.

From human to machine, then.  But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift.  In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men.  I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population.  But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.

The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative.  The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.

Google search for “sign spinners” (click to enlarge):

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Google search for “‘mannequin sign spinners”  (click to enlarge):

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Isn’t. This. Interesting.

When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females.  Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.

When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce.  It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.

How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.

Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Scientific American Does Not Stand With DN Lee

By Arturo R. García

The science blog community was lit up — and rightly so — after the disturbing treatment of DN Lee came to light.

As Lee explains in both the video above and at Isis The Scientist, Lee was approached by Biology-Online.org for a guest blogging stint. When Lee asked about payment, B-O said they did not pay for guest contributors, but argued that her work would benefit from being exposed on the site.

When Lee declined, however, B-O replied — and we quote — “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”
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International Politics and the First African American Flight Attendants

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph.D.; originally published at Sociological Images

“Next to being a Hollywood movie star, nothing was more glamorous.” This breathless statement, quoted in Femininity in Flight, was uttered by a flight attendant in 1945.  At the time being a stewardess was quite glamorous.  Like motion pictures do today, airlines trafficked in “the business of female spectacle.”  They hired only women who they believed to represent ideal femininity. Chosen for their beauty and poise, and only from among the educated, and slender, they were as much of an icon as Miss America.  And they were almost all White.

Victoria Vantoch tells the story of the first African American flight attendants in a chapter of her new book, The Jet Sex.  Patricia Banks was one of the first Black women to sue an airline for racial discrimination.  She graduated from flight attendant training school at the top of her class and applied to several airlines.  But it was 1956 and the U.S. airlines had never hired a Black woman.  After 10 months of trying, an airline recruiter pulled her aside and admitted that it was because of her race.  Which, of course, it was; airlines disqualified any applicants that had broad noses, full lips, coarse hair, or a “hook nose” (to weed out Jews).

Banks sued. After four years of litigation, Capital Airlines was forced to hire her.  She postponed her marriage and took the job (airlines only hired single women as flight attendants). When she put on her uniform for the first time, she said:

After all I had gone through, I couldn’t believe I was finally wearing the uniform. I had made it. I was going to fly. It was such an accomplishment.

patriciabanks

Individual women weren’t the only ones pushing to integrate the flight attendants corps.   International surveys showed that citizens of other countries knew that America had a “race problem” and this was a problem for then-President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.  They needed to do something flashy and they turned to flight attendants to do it.  If they could make Black women the face of such an iconic and high-profile occupation, they thought, it would help restore America’s reputation.  According to Vantoch, Johnson “made stewardess integration his personal cause.”

That was 1961; in 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act mandating equal treatment in the workplace.  The following year, in response to even more lawsuits, approximately 50 Black women were hired by airlines.  This would make them 0.33% of the workforce.

Patricia  Banks and her fellow first African American flight attendants, including Mary Tillerand Marlene White, would continue to face racism, now from co-workers, passengers, and supervisors.  Banks would quit after one year, citing exhaustion in the face of emotionally draining feminine work and a constant onslaught of racism.  She was a great flight attendant, though, and proud to show the world that a Black woman could shine in the occupation.

Here’s Patricia Banks, telling the story in her own words at Black History in Aviation. It’s worth a watch; she’s amazing:

Cross-posted at VitaminW.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Deen’s empire goes down like Dixie, and Black Twitter does race and comedy right

Paula Deen apology Pt. 2: In which I am offended by the poor stagecraft and messaging of what has to be the worst PR counsel known to humankind.

Paula Deen apology, Pt. 2: In which a nation is offended by poor stagecraft and messaging from what has to be the worst PR counsel known to humankind.

So, for those of you not paying attention to the implosion of Southern cooking doyenne Paula Deen’s empire, here’s a timeline of the week an angry public drove Old Dixie down. (Don’t you love a good Confederacy carol?):

  • In 2012, Lisa Jackson, a white woman, files suit against Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers and their various enterprises. The former employee of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, part of the Deen family of businesses and operated by Hiers, alleges routine assault and gender and racial discrimination within the workplace. According to Talking Points Memo:

The complaint alleged “racially discriminatory attitudes pervade” Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House where Jackson claimed African-American employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white staffers. Jackson also said African-Americans were held to “different, more stringent, standards” than whites at the restaurant and that Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks.

Jackson also says that Hiers exposed employees to pornography and that women were routinely denigrated. Deen herself, when giving Jackson a promotion, is alleged to have been loathe to “give a woman a man’s job.”

  • In May 2013, as part of proceedings, Paula Deen was deposed. The National Enquirer broke the story that the recently filed videotaped deposition included damning content. The deposition was made public last week. Revelations included:
    • When asked if she had ever used the word “nigger,” Deen replied, “Yes, of course.” She admitted to using the word in reaction to an armed robbery by a black man in the 1980s and probably more recently when recounting conversations between black people or when telling jokes.
    • Deen thinks that racial slurs in the workplace are okay if part of one’s “sense of humor.” She proclaimed that “Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”
    • She also opined on the elegance of a traditional “before the Civil War” Southern wedding with only middle-aged black men and women as servers. Deen hoped to stage a similar wedding for her brother, but didn’t because, she said, the media wouldn’t understand.
  • In response to public backlash, Deen scheduled and then canceled an interview with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.” Instead, she issues two, po-faced, half-assed apologies that demonstrate little understanding of what she did wrong. (The appearance has been rescheduled for Wednesday.)

 

  • The Food Network sticks a fork in Deen’s show, allowing her contract to expire at the end of the month. I am no network honcho, but I do know it is imprudent to have someone who has been publicly revealed as a racist and sexist, and who abets similar behaviors in the workplace, as a very high-profile face of your brand.
  • Paula Deen apologists descend on Facebook with cyber-torches, believing the celebrity chef is being demonized for “saying a bad word,” “being honest” and something, something, hip hop, something, something, Obama. They also line up to eat in her Georgia restaurants.
  • Meanwhile, African American employees of Deen’s businesses are coming forward with more allegations of mistreatment, so maybe this isn’t all about “bad words,” but, y’know, fucking workplace discrimination–what happens when people who think there are good uses of “the N word,” that women can’t be in positions of authority, and that the South was best in its antebellum days, have money and power.

And while all this was going on, Black Twitter (and friends) made my heart sing by marshaling its collective wit and sense of justice into putting Paula Deen on blast, most notably with #PaulasBestDishes, launched by the incomparable @BrokeyMcPoverty. (Joseph shared his favorites with y’all last week.)

 

And...

 

Najeemah, girl, you ain’t never lied!

Interestingly, at least one media outlet, Variety, called the hashtag “a showcase for racist jokes,” as if folks were fighting racism with, well, more racism. Now, I’ve written a lot about racism and sexism in comedy and about how criticism of comedy is often met with cries of “free speech,” “no topic is off limits,” “political correctness,” blah de blah. But…

The idea that the movement toward fewer “isms” in our speech and deeds is anathema; that “political correctness” is a blow against free speech; that the power structure has flipped; that the strictures of “political correctness” are everywhere, and that real bias barely exists anymore; has wormed its way into our social fabric, including entertainment. In comedy, that means that dusty racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes that are as old as time are positioned as refreshing and edgy.

#PaulasBestDishes wasn’t just typical cheerleading for the status quo masquerading as comedy. The hashtag unleashed comedy that was truly edgy in that it spoke truth to power. The target of the running gag was not the marginalized but the marginalizer. The message wasn’t “Black people sure are funny,” but that racism and racists are awful. It was laughing at a serious subject done right. And it was funny as hell.

To borrow a phrase from another celebrated chef, “Bam!”

Why I Wrote A Mad Men Episode With Negroes

By Special Guest Contributor Erika Alexander; cross-posted from Showbiz Is Glamorous 

"Mad Men Remix." Illustration by Brian Sanders. Remixed by Tony Puryear.

“Mad Men Remix.” Illustration by Brian Sanders; remixed by Tony Puryear.

Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with Negroes? And by that I mean with “Negro” characters in it, not with.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made? 

Though I work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men, so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of the Season 6 premiere, let me tell you about it.

I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter (advertising); I like the cast (Don Draper is hot); I like the look (sexy Eames meets Op Art); I like the writing (Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast). I love the writing.

I have only one issue with Mad Men (OK, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a Black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lotMad MenGame Of ThronesGirlsVeep–these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?…and bemoan, WTF!…but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?

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Meanwhile On TumblR: Come Get The “Accidental Racist” And Wage-Gap Realities For Women Of Color

By Andrea Plaid

Via thenewestrant.com

Via thenewestrant.com

To paraphrase bell hooks, like feminism, allyship is something you do, not who you are. And Racializens gave a lot of love to Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan, who wrote one of the smartest come-get-your-people responses to “Accidental Racist” (and, btw, wrote a great post on allyship itself):

It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a fucking accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.

Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.

If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves fucking trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo fucking hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the fuck outta Black people.

That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.

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Watch: Our Own Andrea Plaid Talks Scandal With MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry


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If you missed her on Saturday, catch our Associate Editor Andrea Plaid talking about Scandal on MSNBC with Melissa Harris-Perry as part of an all-star “watch party” that delves into, among other topics, the imperfections of Olivia Pope and why they matter.

“For one hour, we’re allowed to walk into a world where there’s a woman who’s powerful and wonderful and amazing and yet has some very problematic things going on in her life,” Andrea explains.

Also on the panel:

  • Heather McGhee, vice-president of policy and outreach for Demos, a public policy group working toward social and economic equality
  • Janet Mock, author and founder of the #GirlsLikeUs project on Twitter
  • Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of The Grio and a frequent contributor and guest-host for MSNBC

Congrats, Andrea!

P.S. If you need to catch up on last week’s episode, Joseph has your recap right here.

EBONY.com Shows Andrea Plaid Some Love

Racialicious.com Associate Editor Andrea Plaid

As we begin the week, let’s send up a cheer for our own Associate Editor, Andrea Plaid, for being named one of 8 Dynamic Black Women Editors in New Media by EBONY.com, alongside movers and shakers from outlets like BET, Colorlines, The Grio, and others.

The full list–and Andrea’s words on the kinds of black women editors the publishing world needs–can be found here. And don’t forget to check out her weekly look at The R’s Crush of the Week and visit the Racialicious Tumblr, which she runs with frequent updates every day. Congratulations, Andrea!