Texaco--Running on Fumes
The situation at Texaco has made a public spectacle of diversity
training. Who would have thought that something as prosaic as corporate
training would be part of a story that includes secret tapes, weirdly misheard
transcripts, lawsuits, shredded documents...
When the tapes from 1994 were released, the first impression
was that several white male senior managers were calling African-American
co-workers "black jelly beans" and "niggers."
So it followed that the men were bigots. And that explained
Texaco's discrimination against black employees. And that just confirmed
what many people suspected about the people at the top of corporate America.
In an instant, we have revealed a roomful of Mark Fuhrmans.
Open and shut case. Convicted by their own words.
Except that those weren't their words. The man didn't say
"niggers," he said "St. Nicholas," a well-known jolly white man.
And the Texaco manager didn't call black people "black jelly
beans." He was mimicking or paraphrasing a man who has been comparing diversity
to a jar of jelly beans for years. No, not Ronald Reagan. The speaker was
an African-American man, hired by Texaco as part of their diversity awareness
program. (Note for the sake of accuracy: Dr. Roosevelt Thomas does not
talk about black jelly beans; he talks about red, green and yellow jelly
I know this sounds like a sketch from "In Living Color."
Except that it's not funny.
The Texaco managers now share infamy with a list of sour
white men, caricatures, archetypes, friends and neighbors.
Let's look again at their remarks on that tape. They weren't
just rattled by their black co-workers. They were rattled by their company's
diversity awareness training program.
Holidays to the right of them, holidays to the left of them,
Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, squeezing out their own Christmas.
The tapes--or the mistaken transcripts of them--were the
talk of the town.
Texaco's management--white men, one for all and all for one--were
The so-called "racial slurs and epithets" turned out not
to exist, though there may well be a psycho-political connection between
destroying evidence in a discrimination lawsuit being brought against your
company and being obtuse about the diversity commitment of your company.
It's certainly something to ponder. There is a criminal obstruction of
justice investigation underway.
In retrospect, it looks as though Texaco's diversity awareness
effort back in the summer of '94 did make an impact in perhaps unforeseen
ways. It got under the skin of some senior managers. Those jelly beans
went off like hand grenades.
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