Working While Black in 2020

Jada Jones 30/09/2020

Coronavirus has changed everyone’s lives in one way or another, throughout my time at university I’d worked in nightclubs and had assumed that I would continue to do that until I found something  that I could use my degree for.

But then all of the nightclubs closed. 

I had no clue what I was going to do, I’d had a job since my 18th birthday. I didn’t know how to be unemployed, but like so many other 16 to 24-year-olds, I’d suddenly found myself there.

I started applying to every job I could see and soon enough I found myself a job at an independent restaurant. The position was 30 hours a week, on the bar. It was minimum wage, but they paid for your break - even if you did have to pay for any food you ate there.  At first things were great, everyone I worked with was nice. They made me feel very welcomed and I enjoyed it. I’d get asked often how I was finding it and they’d remind me that they were ‘like a family here’ and that they ‘looked after their own’. I did notice that I wasn’t working 30 hours though, the average seemed to be more like 45.  That’s when I started noticing more things.

 

The restaurant was located in a predominantly white area, and the music they had playing was music I was very familiar with. The word n*gga would touch my ears all day long, even with children eating in the restaurant. I mentioned to each of my managers that I really thought it was important for there to be a less explicit playlist, but they didn’t seem phased. It started to wear me down, I was the only member of staff who wasn’t white - and majority of the time, the only person in the entire venue who wasn’t - it didn’t feel like a reclaimed word like the artist’s intent, it felt like a micro-aggression. I mentioned it to a manager, emphasising how uncomfortable that one word made me feel. This time the response was different. He told me if I made a new playlist with a similar vibe that didn’t have that word in, that we could play it instead.

 

I stayed up until 3am that night making a 10 hour long playlist so that I wouldn’t have to hear it anymore.  But still every time I came into work, they would still be playing the explicit playlists that they knew upset me. I found myself constantly in a battle to not have my ear bombarded by the slur I, and so many of my loved ones, have had hurled at us. I asked myself if my very presence made it seem like this was okay. I started to question more things about the restaurant. The name was a common Arabic term of endearment and the decor inspired by the Middle East - but nothing on the menu was halal, there was even pork on the menu. I raised the point of the haram menu to several staff members and was told ‘we’re trying to distance ourselves from that’. I found myself getting upset, this was a place that was profiting so much from black and Arabic culture but was refusing to give back to either community. 

It was a tense conversation with a chef that I think led to what would ultimately happen. He was telling me of how much he loved hip hop and I was telling him about how I’d made the clean playlist. He didn’t agree with this because they’d wanted ‘a proper hip hop bar’. I returned that it was the same songs, it just didn’t have to say certain words. I was in a room with at least 4 other colleagues at this point. The chef told me that if it was only me that was uncomfortable then it’s my problem, not theirs. Not one person backed me up. I said, “As the only black person here, it makes me uncomfortable having to hear the word n*gga all day long as I’m trying to work.” 

Nobody said a word. 

I tracked down the head of HR at this point. I told her how it was upsetting me that I was constantly having to argue with everybody in order to not be bombarded with a word that we all knew wasn’t okay. I added in that I had been brought in on 30 hours and seemed to always be working over 40, that I was tired and wanted to know if there was a chance I could work a few less hours and actually get time to spend with my family. Two hours into a shift a few days later, my manager and the head of HR asked me if they could talk to me for a minute.

They sat me down and told me that I was on probation and that they would be terminating my employment on the basis that the position would now be no less than 40 hours a week. In the letter they said ‘as discussed with your manager’ which made me almost laugh. I’d texted her once asking if I could work no more than 40 hours and she’d text me back saying that I couldn’t, I would’ve hardly called that a discussion.

The two women elaborated, telling me it wasn’t just me asking to work 40 hours, but that there had been incidents where I had left the venue upon finishing my shift even when the site was busy. 

I was in shock, they were telling me that I no longer had a job because I left work when my shift finished and I’d asked to work less than 150% of the originally agreed upon hours.

The timing felt convenient as I had just raised complaints about cultural appropriation and the overuse of racial slurs in the loudly broadcasted playlist. What the chef had said rung in my head, it had only been me who’d had an issue with the music and the haram menu.

 

Editors Note: Jada has also undertook some research and found that to claim unfair dismissal at a workplace, you'd have to be employed there for at least 2 years. This isn't fair and doesn't make sense at all. I personally have never worked in one place for more than 2 years and many young people, in particular, are in the same position. 

 

I have found this petition that is asking for this rule to be changed to allow anyone who has passed their probation period to be allowed to claim unfair dismissal. Although from my perspective there really should not be a time restriction on this, I think this is a good start and we would love it if you can sign the petition. If you have some extra time, you could even write to your MP or local councillor and make them aware of this unethical rule that is allowing so many companies to get away with racism and prejudice in the workplace.

Follow Jada Jones on instagram @ariadne_lake as well as Jada's magazine @3percentmag for more work and updates.

If you would like to write, share or present anything on ROOT-ed's website please send an email to info@rootedzine.co.uk to register your interest. 

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