“My little brown man”

This one may kick up a debate. Was the owner being racist or incredibly ignorant in his political correctness? The Star Tribune reports (free reg. required):

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday contends that suburban (near Minneapolis) car dealer Iten Chevrolet has engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination, including instances in which managers used racial epithets in describing employees and customers who were members of minority groups.

The dealership is a longtime fixture in Brooklyn Center, and sits near some of the metro area’s most racially diverse neighborhoods. It faced similar complaints in the 1990s, reaching an of-court settlement of allegations that racial stereotypes and off-color jokes were common at the company.

Iten’s attorney, William Clelland, called the latest accusations “outrageous” and “lurid.” He said the lawsuit was filed after an attorney for Ron Budhram, a fired employee who is Indian-American, set Tuesday as a deadline for the dealership to agree to a $450,000 settlement.

So apparently Budhram was let go because the owners didn’t appreciate the fact that he moonlighted on the side (as others did as well he claims). The lawsuit however goes into details as to what Budhram cited as discriminatory:

Budhram said the dealership had a racially discriminatory atmosphere during his employment, much of it directed at blacks. In one instance, the suit said, a business consultant at the dealership came across a group of minority and white employees as they were eating and asked, “Why are all the dark-skinned employees standing around?

On another occasion, the suit stated, a minority employee asked Iten service manager Steve Marchand for permission to go home because his family was without heat after the furnace had stopped working. According to the suit, Marchand, who is named as a defendant, responded “I suppose you can go home. You black guys and your heat — you gotta have your heat.

On at least a half-dozen occasions, the suit added, Marchand referred to Budhram as “my little brown man.

Now I certainly am not going to defend Marchand’s idiotic comments, but I can understand at least how the guy could be incredibly ignorant in his comments without necessarily being a racist. Discrimination and racism mean two separate things though. This doesn’t feel like the prior but I can definitely understand a lawsuit based on the latter. I know that throughout my life seemingly well-meaning co-workers have said incredibly stupid things. I guess you learn to block it out. In any case I hope that Budhram’s African-American co-workers get a cut of the loot.

17 thoughts on ““My little brown man”

  1. Racial epithets and coarse jokes are immensely popular at car dealerships, from what I’ve heard. It’s like it’s ingrained into their work culture. That doesn’t justify the racism (if it was real), but I’m surprised that was most discriminatory thing Mr. Budhram could find.

    If Mr. Budhram wanted a stronger case, he should have tried some other dealerships.

  2. what are you, kidding? if these allegations are true, this is totally inappropriate business conduct and should prompt an investigation into their business practices to see if race was a factor in hiring, promotions, prices charged for customers, sales, etc. There’s not enough to go on here to know whether this is a legit claim, but it’s not just a matter of brushing off a few eipthets.

  3. I’m sorry, but none of that qualifies as racism in my book. Just because someone gets overly friendly and insults you does not then qualify you for riches. Our society is messed up. I mean, $450,000 for being called “little brown man?”

    Hell, I grew up in Mississippi. I got called “nigger” every goddamn day. Who do I get to sue?

    I want to tell this guy to just suck it up. Big deal, someone was mildly offensive to you. There’s no evidence he was held back in any way, no evidence he was discriminated against. No evidence of anything but a few mildly-off-color (ha!) remarks.

    Cry me a fuckin’ river.

  4. Saurav, with regards to sales I think the whole industry needs to be overhauled. Studies have shown that black people and women pay more for a car (link).

    And I wonder if my opinion and Salil’s (i.e. not thinking this incident was terribly bad) were influenced because of where we grew up (the South). Just food for thought, maybe it isn’t the case.

  5. Hell, I grew up in Mississippi. I got called “nigger” every goddamn day. Who do I get to sue?

    If you were fired by an employer on the basis of your race, especially in the midst of a racially hostile environment, you can sue that employer.

    You’ll never see a discrimination case where the employer says “I hereby fire you because you are a smelly hindoo” or whatever. Doesn’t mean that race-based firings don’t happen. So you have to look at the general atmosphere at work, which is the tactic used here.

    Don’t know the details of this case but if its illegal its illegal regardless of what part of the country it is in.

    Note: The case previously lost before the EEOC (first level).

  6. We all know there is racial discrimination and most of us were/are discriminated/insulted for being brown, but must we whine so much about it?

    Maybe too many posts recently have been about racial issues. Can we have something different for a change? Maybe some bad puns by abhi or maybe humor or if it not asking too much, both in one post? :-)

    After all this site should be more than a overly sensitive brown version of the NAACP.

  7. Maybe some bad puns by abhi or…”

    I resent that. I have never employed any puns in my posts. I think you are confusing me with Manish.

  8. racism is really bad. but…i knew that. i would personally like to see more posts about brown american culture (something i don’t know much about to be honest). your blog of course, but i doubt i’m the only regular reader in that boat….

  9. Ummm. This wasn’t a post intended to point out racism. I don’t even think I’d call what happened “racist.” It was a post intended to show that discrimination isn’t always clear. Lot’s of us have been called “little brown man” or something like that as a couple of commenters pointed out. I write posts like this to hear other peoples experiences in the comments section and not for the story itself. The people that I EXPECT to not care for a particular post, end up not caring for it. I had never planned on catering to everyone.

  10. I bet you wont find this in a Honda, Nissan or Toyota dealership. Chevy is a piece of junk anyway – serves them Desis right, who work and buy these tin cans on wheels.

  11. isn’t it kind of our problem to say “WHAT did you call me??” when spoken to in a manner like outlined in this post? Isn’t it our responsibility to stand up for ourselves or call racism and ignorance on the carpet? I’m not saying to start a fight, but a well placed “I’m not sure what you mean by that…” usually does well.

  12. And I wonder if my opinion and Salil’s (i.e. not thinking this incident was terribly bad) were influenced because of where we grew up (the South). Just food for thought, maybe it isn’t the case.

    runnerwalla, I wouldn’t doubt it. I probably do tend to take things like this in a different light having lived preity much my entire life in the northeast. I have very little personal experience with race-based discrimination (relative to other folks that have posted on this blog in the past), although I am learning more and more about what other people in my bangali community dealt with when they first came here (most recently learned that a family friend was told he would not be allowed to buy a house in the 1970s in the Bronx because of de facto segregation).

    But the reason why this gets me is exactly what you pointed to–that it might be part of a system of discrimination, complete with culture that discriminates, economic consequences, money, etc. I’m not saying it is clearly an instance of discrimination, because like I said, I don’t think there’s enough to go on from the post (and i’m too lazy to read the article:) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. “Cry me a f@#kin river” isn’t the most sympathetic of responses to someone facing a perhaps milder version of what you guys went through (I know you didn’t say this and i’m not lumping you together…just that you brought up salil’s comment).

    Also, my family bought a car recently, and now I have some personal antipathy towards car dealers for trying to strongarm you into doing things, manipulating numbers, and generally being pushy and not being straightforward–it’s no surprise to me that women and minorities end up paying less b/c (very generally speaking) I would guess they have less of a sense of entitlement to stand up for themselves than White men. Not all of us, I’m sure–just more of us than White men.

  13. DesiDancer is right. I was called a “curryhead” once and I went back and asked the guy in a loud voice, “What did you say?”. Got an apology…

  14. racism is really bad. but…i knew that. i would personally like to see more posts about brown american culture (something i don’t know much about to be honest).

    Peeps peep this site from the UK, India, Pak, and elsewhere also.

    And given the fact that every time an arguably racist event comes up on sepia, some people (usually the same people) poo-poo it and downplay its significance…(and I mean EVERY time)…you would think racism didn’t exist or weren’t a problem….The Jersey Guys were just expressing themselves, Colonialism helped India, the car dealers were just joking, Hindu gods on clothing are kosher….I mean damn.

    (Yeah I know the retort….some of us probably think EVERYthing is racist…however, I think the usual opponents to racist incidents, such as Saurav for instance, put a lot thought into it and provide atypical reactions)

  15. ok what this author failed to inform you is that he was NOT fired based on his race or anything to do with it. He was fired for stealing and other things along that lines. He tried taking the case to the commision for equal oppurtunity employment or something like that and they laughed in his face basically and said he had no case and then he brought it to the state and they did the same thing so he had no other choice but to snag a lawyer and bring it federal. Doesnt that say something that the guys at the equal oppurtunity place didnt give a damn?! it should. he has no case and theres no way in this lifetime that he will be getting a penny and i am actually certain of that. He was let go a long time ago and if this all was actually true it would have been brought up a long time ago. Also it is not a fair stereotype to say that all car dealerships do that.