Monday, August 19, 2013

The Absolute Worst Way To Pay Tribute To Trayvon Martin.

In the months prior to the George Zimmerman trial, Hoodies were omnipresent. Especially online. Millions of people changed their social media avatars to an image of themselves, or Martin, or their kids, of their pets, or MLK (seriously, WTF?) wearing a hoodie. I never really got with this (okay, maybe the day prior to the verdict), because I thought there were far better ways to show solidarity with the Martin family. Namely: registering to vote, and showing my black ass up for jury duty when called. You could throw mentoring/tutoring/coaching kids in there if you're really bad ass. But hey, Drive-By Activism is a lot easier. Change that avatar!

In the pantheon of "supportive social gestures", I thought wearing a hoodie was pretty lame. But whatever.

This woman, though, well, she was really dedicated to the cause. So dedicated she quit her damn job. And wrote a self congratulatory opinion piece that the Washington Post ran Sunday.
Last month, when a jury found Zimmerman not guilty in Martin’s death, it wasn’t the end of the story. People young and old, black and white, took to the streets from coast to coast. For Zimmerman, too, much was not resolved; whatever you may think of him, he can’t be happy that he killed a young man on the cusp of adulthood, with dreams and goals and loving parents who presented the most graceful bearing of grief I’ve ever seen.

I needed to do something. The Monday after the trial ended, I went to my job at a small doctor’s office and made my computer desktop wallpaper (which was not viewable to the public) an image of a hoodie. This image had sprung up on the Internet and social media as an expression of support for the Martin family. It is meant as an acknowledgement that this senseless death had not gone unnoticed.


Our president asked that we “do some soul-searching.” He let us know that he didn’t have much faith in politicians organizing conversations on race, but he said that he thought that in our families, churches and workplaces we might succeed.

But that’s not what happened in my case. On Aug. 1, at the end of a long work day, my boss called me into his office. Apparently, during the two weeks since I had selected the hoodie image for my computer desktop, some of my co-workers had complained. They felt that this image, which could be seen only when I logged in or minimized all the windows open on my screen, was inappropriate. My boss, looking distressed, told me that I had to change it.

There was no room for discussion between him and me or me and them. There would be no way to explain, to anyone who felt frightened or threatened by what I had done, that I wasn’t making some call to arms, or a black-power salute, or in fact trying to express any anger at all. It was merely an image of a piece of clothing worn by a young man who was wrongfully killed. By displaying it, I was simply saying that I was sad.


So, I went to my computer and composed a letter of resignation. It would be the last document I would ever complete at my workplace of six years. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t hard. Either way, the real problem remained. When everything was said and done, the life of a young man who should have made it home safely that night still had been cut short.
You'll need to read the whole thing to get the full effect. And no, I'm not stupid enough to believe that this incident is the only reason why this woman (Brenda Howard) quit her job. This was probably the tip of the iceberg for both Ms. Howard and her employer, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. So no, I'm not buying that whole "I had to speak truth to power so I quit" bull. Miss me with that.

Jokes aside, I'm wondering why this lady thought it was okay to use company property to make a halfhearted political statement. I didn't understand President Obama's call for people to discuss race in their workplace, because the workplace in an inherently apolitical institution by nature. Just as I wouldn't have wanted to see a colleague with an "I Stand With Zimmerman" screensaver, I understand why some might be offended by the image of the hoodie. And even if they weren't, customers could potentially be offended. The employer was well within his right to ask her to simply remove the image from his computer. And Ms. Howard was well within her right to quit the job, regardless of how silly/trivial the reason.[1]

Good luck landing a new receptionist job, Ms. Howard. That said, your article is hovering around the magical 5,000 comment mark on The Post right now. I think you've got a bright future somewhere.

Question: Did this woman make a grand social statement, or just quit her job for no damn reason? Have you ever made a social statement on the job? Is there any good way to discuss political/social/racial issues while at work?

[1] Wouldn't "wearing a hoodie" to work have been a more impactful social statement, and one that would have been far harder for her employer to prevent?

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