The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is suing Tesla over allegations of racism, yet has refused to inform Tesla of the basis of the allegations.
This lawsuit isn’t a good thing for Tesla, but it will, I believe, shine a light on the right path forward for other corporations and management that may be stumbling in the dark to devise racially sensitive policies. Part of finding that path, though, requires addressing racism itself head on.
This means that we have to be emotionally prepared to deal with the painful parts — especially if we are to help those who are victims of racism and oppression. My intent with this article is to bring awareness while being fair, balanced, and honest. Honesty can be painful.
Racism Isn’t Going To Go Away By Itself
Racism isn’t something that is just going to go away because Elon Musk or any other CEO wants it to. It’s not going to go away because we want it to either. It’s one of those problems that we, especially American-born white people, have to evaluate within ourselves, because whether we want it to be or not, it’s deeply embedded within our psyches. I am referring to mental programming and upbringing.
The DFEH lawsuit itself could be a teachable moment — not just for the DFEH and Tesla, but for all of us.
The DFEH Lawsuit
The LA Times noted that, among other things, the N-word was used many times in the Fremont factory, including by some managers. The article added that according to the lawsuit, Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that some employees referred to as the plantation. To be fair, this is incredibly horrible and paints a bad picture of what it’s like to work at Tesla. However, Tesla has stated that the DFEH hasn’t provided factual evidence and that the DFEH is refusing to work with Tesla.
Furthermore, Tesla stated that the DFEH has been asked at least 50 different times by individuals who felt discriminated against or harassed to investigate Tesla. And on every single occasion, when the DFEH closed an investigation, the agency found no misconduct against Tesla. In other words, an agency that is claiming that Tesla has rampant racism found no company misconduct with regards to racism in any of its previous investigations. So, one has to wonder why the DFEH, which previously found no issues at the factory, is suing Tesla.
That being said, I think this provides a golden opportunity to address the problem of racism itself as a topic, and Tesla executives including Elon Musk have a chance to take the lead here in a fight against something that has been hurting minorities in America since this country was founded.
One way Elon and Tesla can do this is to simply ask this question: “What more can we do to protect our minorities from systemic racism and discrimination?”
Tesla & Other Corporations Dealing With Racism In The Workplace
Unfortunately, this is an issue that has to be dealt with. Tesla has made tremendous progress toward transparency and is vocal about its opposition to all forms of discrimination and harassment.
However, Tesla isn’t a person but a corporation. And corporations have many people from all walks of life working for them. Some employees will have racism in their hearts.
McDonald’s, GM, Walmart, and several others have had similar issues with racism. The issue isn’t Tesla or Elon Musk, but the fact that racism itself exists in the hearts of so many. And solving racism isn’t an easy task.
The reason for this is that as with world hunger, racism is a multi-layered problem that isn’t going to be solved with a tweet or even billions of dollars.
Unfortunately, I have a hard truth to share and it’s hard because many will not want to see or admit this. America was built primarily for white men. The land was stolen from Native Americans and built with the blood and sweat of African slaves and Chinese labor. This happened and is still happening today. The prison system in America is mostly made up of Black people, and prisoners are often used for slave labor. Global Policy Journal reported that 65% of the total US prison population is Black despite Black people comprising only 14.6% of American society in 2019. And before one says, “well, they committed a crime,” we live in a society where a white man can rape a woman and only get six months, yet a Black person can get life in prison for possessing weed. There are countless examples of racial injustice in this regard.
We, especially white people in America, have benefitted from systematic racism. This is why I say solving racism isn’t easy. However, CEOs such as Elon Musk, who has taken a stand against racism before, can continue to work on this and make progress. Companies such as Tesla (see public report on this and other topics) can continue to improve.
Tesla already has policies in place to protect its employees, and so do many other corporations, but this problem isn’t going to be solved with policies. It’s going to be solved by having compassion, an open heart, and a willingness to truly care about the other person. Corporations are incapable of this, but the people who make up the corporations are capable. And I feel that this is a duty that must be owned passionately not just by executives and managers but by every single person who comes in the corporation’s doors.
One Last Thought
I really think that blaming Elon Musk isn’t the answer here. Neither is blaming Mary Barra for the racism that happened in 2019 at GM when employees planted nooses and “whites only” signs at the General Motors plant in Toledo, Ohio. Instead, we need to actually hold those who committed those crimes accountable.
Blaming Elon or Mary or whoever the CEO may be doesn’t solve the core issue of racism in the workplace. However, Elon and Tesla have a chance to lead with grace here. Asking, “what more can we do to protect you from systemic racism?” shows compassion, humility, and a clear path forward. This, I think, is what Tesla and Elon should do, and what all corporations and each of us as individuals should do.