California Charges Elon Musk’s Tesla With Crazy-Ass, Old School Racism

White Nonsense
California Charges Elon Musk’s Tesla With Crazy-Ass, Old School Racism

Elon Musk, self-described “Technoking” of Tesla, grew up in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s but has vehemently denied that he benefited from apartheid, which was a thing at the time. We bring this up because California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against his company last week that charges the electric-vehicle maker with rampant racial discrimination at its California plant. Of course, racism is hardly a South African import. It’s been the American way since the nation’s founding.

The lawsuit is the result of a 32-month investigation and based on complaints from thousands of Black workers over a decade. The accusations are horrific.

NPR reports:

The lawsuit describes multiple instances of racist language and drawings toward Black employees, penalizing Black employees more harshly than white employees and denying Black employees career advancement opportunities and equal pay for work similar to that of other employees.

According to the lawsuit, Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that its presumably racist employees called “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slave ship” and “the plantation." So, uh, yikes.

“Slave ship,” “the dark side,” and “the plantation” are definitely offensive but “porch monkey stations” are what people say when they've gotten tired of their teeth. Those are fighting words, and Tesla somehow thought Black employees should hear this shit and then happily whistle while they work?

Graffiti — including “KKK,” “Go back to Africa,” the hangman’s noose, the Confederate Flag and “F-- [N-word]” — were carved into restroom walls, workplace benches and lunch tables and were slow to be erased, the lawsuit says.

It’s bad enough that Black employees had to ask the plant to remove racist graffiti but the custodial staff slow-walked the job, often for months, as if a special soap was needed to erase "all monkeys work outside" and "fuck [n-words]” from the wall.

One Black employee saw "hang [n-word]" written next to an image of a noose in the bathroom. It’s hard to do your best work when many of your colleagues are racists with anger management issues. Black people just want to take a dump in peace without staring at “fucking [n-word].”

The lawsuit alleges that Black employees were relegated to the Fremont, California, factory’s most physically demanding tasks. For instance, only Black workers had to scrub floors on their hands and knees, like they were cast members at an antebellum theme park.

Black employees have reportedly filed numerous complaints about racial harassment, racial discrimination, and illegal retaliation in the workplace — all to no avail. The lawsuit states that despite Tesla’s claims that it doesn’t tolerate racial harassment or discrimination at its factories, the company's investigations of complaints are "not compliant with law.” I’m not a a lawyer but I don’t see how a company fields a racist graffiti complaint more than once, unless the company’s entire business model is producing racist graffiti. Then the fault lies with Black employees for not paying attention during orientation.

Tesla responded to the lawsuit with a self-serving blog post that claims the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has investigated almost 50 discrimination complaints in the past without finding misconduct. The agency denies this, but it’s also somewhat of a self-own. Why are there that many complaints of overt racism in the workplace? A federal court has already ordered Tesla to pay a former Black employee $137 million because of gross racism.

“A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof,” the blog post said, adding that the company provides “the best paying jobs in the automotive industry … at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving California.”

Well-paying jobs are great, but it’s not much of a selling point when you have to endure racist abuse.

Musk officially moved Tesla’s headquarters to Texas last year, but presumably that was to avoid taxes. We’d like to hope that Texas doesn’t offer employers free rein for workplace discrimination.

[NPR / LA Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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