GM Swears ‘Zero Tolerance’ in Response to Racism Allegations, Unclear What ‘Zero’ Means to Them

Screenshot: CNN

Under pressure from angry consumers, General Motors is using its social media accounts to affirm its “zero tolerance” stance against racial harassment—despite allegations from current and former employees who say racist abuse was the norm at one plant.

The anger toward GM stems from a lawsuit, filed last year, in which nine employees sued the company for failing to address a culture of rampant racism. Earlier this month, a CNN report shed additional light on the allegations, revealing the degree, intensity, and persistence of what black employees had to endure at one Toledo, Ohio, plant.

While GM didn’t speak to CNN for the story, citing ongoing litigation, it seems they’re now trying to do damage control on social media. In response to people saying they will never buy a GM vehicle until the company does something to address racial harassment in the workplace, GM wrote:

We’re outraged that anyone would be subjected to racist behavior. We have zero tolerance for discrimination—this is not who we are. We’re working to drive this out of our workplaces.

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Here’s one thing I’ve learned from reading PR statement after PR statement from those accused of varying degrees of wrongdoing: Any time someone tells you some variation of “this is not who I am,” that person hasn’t begun to even lurch in the direction of accountability. Because if it’s being brought to the light, it is who you are. It is, in all likelihood, who you’ve been for some time. And progress doesn’t happen until you acknowledge that.

The whole crux of the suit is that the motor company did the absolute minimum to address what black employees say was constant and flagrant racist abuse, which included death threats and nooses being displayed. According to the complaint, nooses were observed as many as five times within three months in 2017. The harassment at the Toledo plant spiraled out so badly that two black supervisors, Marcus Boyd and Derrick Brooks, quit their jobs out of concerns for their safety.

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Here is just a snapshot of what employees had to endure, from CNN:

Boyd...said a white employee he oversaw once told him: “Back in the day, you would have been buried with a shovel.” Boyd reported that incident to his supervisor.

Boyd and other workers of color learned there was a coded language to talk about them, according to the lawsuit. White employees kept calling them “Dan.” They thought some people didn’t respect them enough to learn their names. But other colleagues told them it was a slur, an acronym for “dumb ass nigger.”

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And when the nooses started showing up?

According to an Ohio Civil Rights Commission report, at one meeting to address the placing of nooses, a white supervisor bemoaned that “too big of a deal” was being made.

That supervisor went on to say, “There was never a black person who was lynched that didn’t deserve it.”

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So what does “zero tolerance” for this behavior look like? As CNN writes, GM provided a statement saying it held mandatory meetings and “closed the plant for a day to have training for every shift.”

With that kind of “zero tolerance,” is it any wonder GM is scrambling now?

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?