Race & Identity
Black Workers Suing General Motors After Experiencing Blatant Racism, Including Seeing Nooses, At Ohio Plant
The higher-ups did nothing to make the situation better.
General Motors is being sued by eight Black workers who claim the environment in an Ohio plant encourages racism.
Former supervisor Marcus Boyd had issues with his subordinates the moment he walked into the Toledo Powertrain plant. He told CNN the white employees gave him a "Who's he to be in charge of them?" vibe.
It went downhill from there. Employees used racial slurs, refused to follow his commands and wore Nazi paraphernalia to work. “Whites only” signs were posted in bathrooms, and the phrase was scrawled on walls.
One worker reportedly told him, "Back in the day, you would have been buried with a shovel."
White staff members had a coded word for their Black coworkers: DAN, which stood for “dumb ass n****r.”
"I used to have to pray. Literally, 'Lord protect me,'" Boyd said. "It was like being at war."
When Boyd reported the behavior to upper management, he was told to deal with it himself. He eventually bonded with Derrick Brooks, another Black supervisor. Brooks also experienced abuse from his white coworkers.
He found a noose in his workspace during a shift where he was the only Black person on the clock. Four more nooses appeared, and all of them were reported. Like the other incidents, the Black employees were left to fend for themselves.
"There's unwritten rules with regards to manufacturing plants and when it comes to management. When it comes to us being Black supervisors, you need to be more appreciative of the job title that you have and go along and do the job that we're asking you,” Brooks said.
Co-plaintiffs Kenny Taylor and Mark Edwards gave similar accounts. Edwards has worked for GM in some capacity since 1977 and has experienced blatant racism. But when he found a noose in his workspace, it became too much. In 1968, his 19-year-old brother was strung up and beaten so badly it left him brain-damaged.
"I was startled, really startled by it," Edwards told The Detroit Free Press. "I couldn’t believe someone did that. I couldn’t understand who in my work area disliked me that much or had that much hatred to hang a noose by my job."
One time, a white coworker called Edwards a "n****r" and snatched a chair from under him. Like Brooks and Boyd, Taylor also saw vandalism in the bathrooms.
“When I’d go to the bathrooms, I saw Nazi symbols on the walls and ‘Hate Blacks’ and ‘Blacks shouldn’t be here,’” he recalled.
Taylor and Edwards remain employed with GM, but Boyd and Brooks left.
Officials at GM refused to be interviewed but provided a statement denying the presence of racism in the company's workplace culture.
"Every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are integral to the fabric of our culture," it reads. "Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and [are] in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work."
Dennis Earl, president of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, believes GM acted appropriately.
"Punishments were equal across the board. If [Boyd] feels management was being more lenient -- I don't see that. I've never seen that. It's pretty colorblind, if you ask me,” he said.
Earl, a white man, downplayed the severity of the behavior.
"Do I believe people are a little too sensitive these days? Absolutely. What passed 20 years ago doesn't pass today,” he continued. "You can't say the things you used to say off the cuff. It doesn't excuse it, but it's not racially motivated statements. It's just bad judgment."
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