As Black people have long known, the idea that Black lives matter is still not a given to everyone—and is actually up for debate in some circles—which is what inspired the simple yet powerful affirmation in the first place.
Costco is the latest business to betray its discomfort with the idea, with store managers in Louisville, Chicago, Delaware, and New Jersey sending several employees home for wearing masks that read “Black Lives Matter,” according to a Buzzfeed News report.
Employees at Costco say the big-box business is making a clear choice by penalizing workers who show they believe Black lives matter, since the store has allowed workers to wear masks showing everything from the Pride flag to the “Blue Lives Matter” version of the American flag for months.
Now they say the company has introduced a new corporate directive, telling them, “To maintain the standards going forward, we expect that attire will be free from pictures or writing or items deemed political or controversial in nature.”
Kirsten Doan is one of about 20 Black employees who work at Costco’s warehouse on Bardstown Road in Louisville. Inspired by a colleague who had started wearing a BLM mask in mid-June, she decided to come to work with one of her own. But soon after the 22-year-old cashier arrived, managers pulled her off the floor and ordered her to remove it.
In audio recordings of that conversation reviewed by BuzzFeed News, the managers told Doan and other employees that Black Lives Matter attire qualifies as “political ideology” that prevents employees from remaining “neutral while on the clock.” When employees insisted that the masks weren’t political or derogatory, managers read aloud the company’s entire anti-harassment policy.
A BLM mask could “cause hostility between other people,” one manager told Doan.
“I want you to know we don’t enjoy any of this,” the manager said. “I have Black friends, you know. I’ve hung around a lot of Black people. I’ve had a Black friend on my boat.”
According to Buzzfeed, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek met with disgruntled employees to talk about the stores’ apparent policy against Black Lives Matter apparel, after a Black worker posted a scathing resignation letter on Facebook that called the company out for believing he is “essential enough to risk my life, but not essential enough to stand against my death.”
After listening to his workers talk about their experiences with systemic racism in the workplace, Jelenik said that though he believes Black lives matter, he would have to allow “All Lives Matter” gear if he gives employees the okay to wear masks that display the slogan against anti-Black racism.
It’s an interesting stance to take at this point in time, since in June Jelenik had written a letter to Costco employees in the wake of George Floyd’s killing that said, “all individuals and organizations can use this moment as a catalyst for change.”
It now appears that Costco has joined the growing number of individuals and organizations—like police officers, Starbucks, and unhinged white couples—who are making it clear that they really don’t want anything to change.