In 1994, two employees filed a lawsuit against the oil company Texaco, claiming that they had been denied promotion because of their race. Such suits are common now, and this one garnered little media attention until, in late 1996, the New York Times broke the news of the Texaco tapes. Richard Lundwall, a Texaco manager, had recorded his conversations with officials in the finance department at Texaco. He made the tape public shortly after he “retired early” from Texaco. Somewhere, among the hiss and crackle and the wow and flutter of the tiny Dictaphone cassette could be heard the unspeakable, unprintable Word.
Commotion from the press. Texaco might as well have drowned the entire Eastern Seaboard in crude oil, considering the journalistic outrage that greeted Lundwall’s tape. Jesse Jackson and other minority leaders described the tape as another Rodney King video—which perhaps it was, in the sense that a politically incorrect office conversation between several white men is now considered as injurious as a beating.
Lawyers for the two plaintiffs claimed that the tape also contained discussions about the possibility of purging files relevant to the racial discrimination lawsuit. This is a very serious crime, as we know from the media’s indifference to the actual shredding of subpoenaed documents at the White House. Maybe the crime was in the conversation—without the attractive garnish of “racial epitaphs” (as the friendly p.r. man at Texaco described them), the media would have found the story a good deal less appetizing.
To deal with the important matter of the “racial epitaphs,” Texaco hired a lawyer, who would examine minutely the depravities recorded on the Dictaphone. The lawyer engaged the services of an investigative firm. Decision Strategies International, Inc., the investigative firm retained Mr. Paul Ginsburg, President of Professional Audio Laboratories, Inc., and Mr. Ginsburg, in the presence of the EBI, enhanced the tape digitally (“using state of the art techniques”) and discovered that the epithet “f–king niggers” was, in fact, the phrase “poor St. Nicholas.”
However, the media, once aroused, are not to be thwarted, and the lawyers, along with their parasites, must be fed. They would feast on jelly beans. On the tape, one of the Texaco executives is heard saying, “You can’t have we and them. You can’t have black jelly beans and other jelly beans.”
According to the lawyer representing Robert Ulrich, the Texaco executive who had actually spoken the jelly bean slur, his client’s taped comments had been prompted by the appearance, at Texaco, of a traveling “diversity training” salesman. Doctor R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., founder and former president of the “American Institute for Managing Diversity.” The doctor was peddling jelly bean analogies, analogies that had been found most efficacious in healing racial sores and sensitive tissues. He accompanied himself with illustrative slides, showing jelly beans reposing in glass jars. As Mr. Ulrich put it, “I’ve heard that diversity thing, we don’t have black jelly beans or green.” Exactly. At Texaco there would be simply “beans,” so well integrated that sticky fingers could not pry them apart. The chairman of Texaco, Mr. Peter Bijur, had heard that diversity thing too: “I believe we can take Texaco into the 21st century as a model of diversity,” he exhorted.
However, Texaco’s lawyer had yet more allegations to examine, namely the National Anthem horror and the Kwanzaa/Hanukkah atrocity. Understanding the importance of wasting its workers’ time on activities that have nothing to do with business, Texaco, like most large corporations, encourages attendance at recently invented political celebrations such as Black History Month. Mr. Lundwall, on his own tape, can be heard saying that he walked out of one of these jamborees, because black employees had done an “African” version of the National Anthem and “sat, during ours, quote . . . ‘ours,’ as though they’re not included . . . we have two friggin’ national anthems.” Mr. Ulrich agrees: “I’m not going to the end [of the next diversity seminar] this year. I refuse to go.”
Obviously Dr. Thomas and his jelly beans had done their work only too well. As the tape demonstrates, the Texaco executives were decrying the separatist philosophy of an “African” National Anthem, in favor of the integration advocated by their diversity training mentor. This same opposition to separatism must surely explain Mr, Ulrich’s problems with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: “I’m still struggling with Hanukkah and now we have Kwanzaa, I mean I lost Christmas, poor St. Nicholas, they sh-t all over his beard.” According to a fretful editorial in the Nation, Ulrich meant that blacks and Jews who wanted “recognition for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa had sh-t all over Santa Claus’s ‘white’ beard.” I suspect that the word which offended the editorialist was the one she herself had added: “white.”
Texaco’s chairman, meanwhile, had been busy undoing all the fine work of the lawyers Texaco had hired. “The statements on the tapes arouse a deep sense of shock and anger among all the members of the Texaco family and decent people everywhere,” he sighed, in an unctuous sermon to the press—contradicting his lawyer’s finding that the statements were not derogatory. The cant about the “Texaco family” was engagingly insincere, considering corporate “downsizing,” boardroom backstabbing, and bribery—whoops, campaign contributions.
Like any good family man, Mr. Bijur decided to be lenient with the four recreant members of his “family.” Messrs. Ulrich and Lundwall, having taken early retirement, were to have their retirement benefits cut, and the two members still working, Messrs. Keough and Meade, were suspended. Mr. Bijur brought in a special inquisitor—Judge A. Leon Higgenbotham (the impeccably black author of In the Matter of Colour)—to sniff out insensitivity.
This was only the beginning. Mr. Bijur (perhaps taking his cue from another “father of his people,” Chairman Mao) decided that senior Texaco executives must roam the country, searching, not for oil, but for Texaco workers to apologize to. A confidential “Ethics Hotline” would be extended throughout the Texaco world to encourage the anonymous reporting of any behavior, “any behavior” that “violates our core values.” According to the p.r. spokesgirl I spoke to, the punishment of Ulrich and Lundwall was for not reporting each other’s racial misconduct. Somehow, even though it turned out not to be racial misconduct, the possibility of its being “racial” was enough. One is reminded of Victor Serge’s description of the Soviet factory worker sent to the gulag for not informing the authorities about “counterrevolutionary espionage” (the worker had overheard someone complaining about the low quality of raw materials the factory had received).
None of Mr. Bijur’s actions, not even his own grovelings on Nightline, would be enough for our rulers, i.e., the media. The lies about black church burnings had fizzled out, but here was another chance to display piety and foment racial division. Two black employees became “1,400 black employees at Texaco,” according to the major news networks, even though only four other black employees had joined the suit, and it had not yet been certified as a class action. The words “f–king niggers,” even though they had not been said, were repeated continually on news shows in the hope that something would explode, somewhere. After “f–king niggers” turned out to be “St. Nicholas,” the networks went after “jelly beans.” When “jelly beans” was explained by Dr. Thomas’s diversity training symposium, the old standby of “not enough African Americans in management positions” made its appearance, and so did Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The media had done their work. The professional black persons had arrived.
There began a strange ritual dance between the corporation and the indignant “leaders of the African American community.” Jesse Jackson, who once referred to New York City as “Hymietown,” was shocked at the idea of Mr. Ulrich “struggling with Hanukkah.” Al Sharpton, for whom conservative blacks are “Oreo cookies,” was appalled by the jelly beans. Hazel Dukes, who during the Dinkins administration managed the amazing feat of running Off Track Betting in New York at a loss, was outraged by the business practices at Texaco.
The up-to-date response to the accusation of “racism” is to welcome the extortion that follows in its train. Mr. Bijur was effusive in his gratitude: “These discussions have been a significant help to Texaco, and I’m gratified that these leaders have been able to make time to join with us.” Translation: “Why can’t they blackmail someone else? I hope we can pay the bastards off.” But the “leaders” always want more than money—they want thanks, praise, and mind control. Facts count for nothing. According to Texaco, the company fired or retired 28.7 percent of its workforce between 1991 and 1996. So-called “minorities,” however, increased in representation in all employee categories, from ordinary workers to executives. Nonetheless, Mr. Bijur has promised “to expand our diversity learning experience to include all employees.” How many more middle management salaries of 50-year-old white men would be sacrificed to pay for this “learning experience”? How many diversity consultants would Mr. Bijur have to hire?
Quite a few, one must imagine. The suit was settled within three days, and the plaintiffs snagged a cool $115 million (which the media turned into $176 million), as well as an 11 percent pay increase for all black employees, effective January 1, 1997.
Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP accepted the settlement with good grace, giving Texaco 30 days to invent some management positions that could be filled by minorities. Mfume was thereupon dubbed an “Uncle Tom Nigger” by several black talk radio hosts: “Don’t give them 30 days, don’t give ’em any days! Let ’em do it now! Let’s start sellin’ that Texaco stock now!” Jesse Jackson vowed to continue the boycott, even though Texaco had said it would create an Equality and Tolerance Task Force, to “implement diversity and sensitivity.” Chairman Bijur announced that he would “ensure discrimination is wiped out.” (Why do so many of Bijur’s obiter dicta sound like Hitler’s Tischgesprache? Must everything involve “wiping out” and “eradication”?)
Paying the marauding Dane his Danegeld has become an established part of American life. It is a pleasant fantasy to imagine a public figure calling the racial, gender, or sexuality bluff, and telling protesters and community “leaders” to go to the devil. But so far no one has girt up the courage to offer spears for tribute when the Danes come a-raiding. I wonder if anyone will.
POSTSCRIPT: After telephoning a number of Texaco gas stations, some in largely black areas such as Newark, New Jersey, I found that business was largely unaffected by the call for a boycott. It is especially pleasing to note that, according to some (white) station owners, black customers had been buying extra gas in support of their neighborhood Texaco franchise.
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