Recently I took a walk on garbage day. I passed a house where an animal had gotten into the trash can, and yucky debris was spread over a large area. Just then the White homeowner started out of the driveway in an Audi SUV.  He was front first, and so couldn’t miss the mess. I watched in amazement as he drove right by it and then around the garbage truck that was waiting at the house next door.

I was walking in an upper middle class neighborhood.  There is available research that privilege can diminish empathic capacity. While this puts me at risk also, this incident would certainly lend credence to the research.  But since I’ve been able to have brief conversations with the sanitation workers in my town before, I stopped to share my outrage while they cleaned up the sloppy mess. The young man commented, “I don’t think people realize just how hard we work.”

I made an OPRA request of my town for information on salary and benefits for our sanitation workers. I was alas not surprised to learn the contract is put out for bid every five years, and that the lowest bidder is accepted. I can only assume that the combination of outsourcing and lowest bidder negatively impact our sanitation workers.

85% of the residents in my county are White, Asian, or White Hispanic. A significant percentage of sanitation workers are African American or Black Hispanic. If it’s true that White people like me are finally waking up to the ubiquity of racism in our country, then this incident represents a place to start.

I have Three Requests:

  • Raise the issue of sanitation worker’s pay & benefits at your Town Council meetings
  • Find a way to talk to the workers in your neighborhood. It’s a sign of respect and shared humanity.
  • If you have the means, tip them.  Regularly, not just during the holidays.

While we may not be able to address systemic racism on our own, we can do something.

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