A poem with a vivid title has started a brouhaha at the Mood Disorder Clinic at Western Psychiatric in Pittsburgh. “Nigger Do Not Speed In My Town” was discovered on a desk by two black employees who reported it to the EEOC as evidence of a racist environment at the Mood Disorder Clinic. The offended employees said their own moods were seriously jeopardized by the incendiary poem found on the desk of a white administrative secretary who was being paid $50 per hour by a personal friend to type and proofread it for future publication.
Following an internal investigation, officials of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discovered that the author of the poem is a local black poet, Michael Robinson, who wrote it as an angry response to the beating of Rodney King. The poem that Robinson had written and asked his friend to type was critical social commentary about the behavior of white police in Los Angeles. Robinson is baffled that his poem is being interpreted as evidence of a culture of discrimination at UPMC.
Surprise, surprise. A Pittsburgh attorney who handles workplace discrimination cases said that the author’s identity in this case is irrelevant. The question, says the attorney in the Pittsburgh Business Times, is “whether the poem is going to be admissible as evidence to show an atmosphere. It probably would be.”
The Pittsburgh Business Times agreed, taking a hardline position in an editorial against common sense and the First Amendment. “Even in issues as difficult as harmonious race or gender relations in the workplace,” said the Pittsburgh Business Times, “we wonder if common sense is still the best guide. If the poem never entered the medical clinic, then the offended employees at Western Psych, regardless of the merit or lack thereof of their complaints, would not have had this incendiary example of what they believe to be UPMC’s tolerance of a culture of discrimination.”
Pitt’s Medical Center officials replied that they cannot search employees’ desks or drawers for potentially offensive materials. But, says attorney Sam Cordes, if an employer fails to take action when such material is found, that may be used as evidence to hold the employer liable in future lawsuits.
Tim Stevens, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was reluctant to comment on how a black poet’s poem about racism wound up as evidence in a racial discrimination case. “I am trying to be responsible about what we need to be passionate about,” he told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “We don’t need to exacerbate race relations.”
Apparently, as with Humpty Dumpty, the clinic and its legions of psychiatrists couldn’t put things back together again. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center currently has about a dozen complaints of racial discrimination against it. The only sure-fire cure is to send the Mood Disorder Clinic a message. A class-action lawsuit is being discussed.