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I'm not dead - Tactical Ninja

Apr. 24th, 2015

03:35 pm - I'm not dead

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I'm becoming very uncomfortable with the racial aspect of social stratification in New Zealand, especially in employment. I don't know if it's a factor of my increasing middle-classness meaning that I now utilise service industries more (taxis, waistaff, cleaners, etc), or whether it's actually a changing environment. Chances are it's the former. How do I know this?

Well, I come from a pretty working class background. 15 years in shearing gangs, freezing works, casual labouring (mostly seasonal market garden services) - and in every case as a white person I was in the minority. Now, I'm middle class and the majority in my industry are white - this despite my workplace being very diverse with a number of nationalities from Macedonian to Brazilian, Indian to Korean.

So anyway, as part of this new white, middle class thing I seem to be doing, I went to a conference. Part of the conference was a bus tour of factories. So there I was in this group of entirely white employers, businesspeople, and industry representatives, walking through the factories watching the staff go about their work. The staff who were overwhelmingly male and brown skinned (ladies in the packing room). I remember what it was like having groups tour through the factory while I was working, and we always thought they were clueless wankers with no real concept of what life was about. They were so far removed from our existence that they weren't really real, and I resented being observed like a zoo animal by these people while trying to make my living.

Now here I was on the other side, knowing what was probably going on in the minds of the staff we were watching and also knowing the truth of what it's like to be one of the wankers as well - not quite so clueless as freezing-worker me might have assumed, but still very very far removed from anything that would give us common ground. I'll be honest, I know what it's like to live on $14000 a year but I don't live it and I haven't for a long time. I've become part of the stratum that benefits from the exploitation of low-paid, brown skinned workers to make my own life easier.

So I was pretty uncomfortable doing these factory tours. I became even more uncomfortable when we visited a place where the 'tour guide' manager dude bragged about how there are no union members employed in that workplace, then went on a rant about how the Labour (centre-left) government 'ruined manufacturing' in the 1980s, how this company had ruthlessly taken down all opposition, and how they only employed very carefully selected staff - a particular type of person. When we got onto the factory floor, I realised that what he meant was white people. I counted 9 brown faces among about 65 employees - 4 were of Indian cast, 4 were of Asian cast, and one was Maori. Two women. So yeah -white guys.

And that made me even more uncomfortable, because while living in a society that funnels people into particular types of work because of their skin colour is pretty gross, encountering an example where even those types of work are denied just made me feel ill. It didn't help that as part of the tour we were shown a room with 5 workers in it, and the manager waved his arm airily while talking about a planned automation - "Of course the workers aren't happy about it because they'll be losing their jobs, but they can retrain!"

And my companions laughed and nodded along.

I realised then that these people I was surrounded by were not my people. They were businesspeople and employers, and they think of their staff as labour costs to be minimised. Many people would not be so open about their exploitation as this manager was, but they obviously approved of his approach.

I wonder how many of the people touring that factory have been on the other side of the factory-tour equation? Is it necessary to have been there to have empathy for the position of another, to understand or be uncomfortable with inequality? Is a lack of empathy necessary to run a business successfully enough to be going to conferences that have factory tours? Did any of them even notice the segregation of white managers/brown staff enough to be surprised when we went somewhere that was all white?

I don't have any answers but the whole thing basically made me want to drop out of society and go raise sheep, apples, and bees on a farm that's nowhere near any of this stuff tbh.

Comments:

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From:devifemme
Date:April 24th, 2015 04:05 am (UTC)
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Dear T: I don't comment very often, but was really struck by your insights and empathy. You did have an odd experience -- having been on "the other side" earlier in your life. I think this post deserves wider appreciation, and wondered whether I might mention it on my LJ -- perhaps not identifying you, merely running excerpts from your post. In fact, I could either post the URL (in effect identifying you), or do the unsourced excerpts -- or nothing at all if you prefer.

Great job! Thanks!

Justine
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From:tatjna
Date:April 24th, 2015 04:26 am (UTC)
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AW, that's nice of you to say. X

Totally fine with you sharing in whatever way you like.
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From:devifemme
Date:April 24th, 2015 05:34 am (UTC)

Thanks, T -- here's my repost!

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http://devifemme.livejournal.com/1733091.html
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From:matrixmann
Date:April 24th, 2015 06:25 am (UTC)
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Strangely how you always hear those speeches "those left labor-friendly governments ruin our business".
There have also been employers which were forced to treat their workers as the kings and queens of their factory and they even agreed.
But well, this allegedly only happened in factories where there was only a manager and some administrative staff, and "the owner" in its conservative meaning was the state (and he took care for that the employed were at comfortablenss).
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From:lifeofreilly
Date:April 24th, 2015 07:20 am (UTC)
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That sounds exactly like the employment situation here in the US, at least in manufacturing. But with slightly less bragging about how they fucked over the workers.

Every manufacturing floor that I've been on that required semi-skilled labor was populated almost exclusively by middle aged immigrant women. The jobs that required skilled labor (tooling, machining) were done by middle aged white men.

Now, to be fair, the engineering team was as multicultural as it gets (Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Israeli, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, and two white males thrown in for good measure- me and another guy).

Still, the assembly jobs- at least in Los Angeles, are done by women older than 35 who are not from this country.

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From:morbid_curious
Date:April 24th, 2015 10:54 am (UTC)
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I don't envy you the discomfort, but thank you for posting about it all the same. These are situations and questions that we as a society ought to be asking ourselves and each other about.
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From:raincitygirl
Date:April 24th, 2015 11:25 am (UTC)
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This is a really interesting and insightful post. Alas, I can present no solutions, but I'm glad to have read it. Would it be okay if I linked to it in my own LJ? It's fine if you say no.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 24th, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)
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I don't mind at all if you'd share it, I'm flattered that you want to. ;-)
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From:meathiel
Date:April 24th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC)
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It would have made me feel very uncomfortable as well.
It makes me uncomfortable now sitting in meetings where they talk about savings - which ultimately means laying off people - and knowing at the same time what profit the company makes. It sucks ...
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From:pundigrion
Date:May 12th, 2015 08:42 pm (UTC)
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That drove me mad working at my last job. We were all contracted and paid less than normal employees, yet at the annual meetings they bragged about how much profit our department brought in!
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From:downwardlashes
Date:April 24th, 2015 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that is disturbing. I can't find a way to empathise with that man that can't empathise with his employees. It just doesn't seem like it could be real to me. How horrible. :(
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From:wildilocks
Date:April 28th, 2015 09:41 am (UTC)
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I have a vague hope you'll get into politics and help fix some of the less savoury aspects of society. But I don't blame you if you run away to the country and hide from the awfulness!
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From:pundigrion
Date:May 12th, 2015 08:43 pm (UTC)
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That would leave me feeling awkward as well, especially how proud they were of it!
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