Monday, November 25, 2013

Behind Black Friday

It's that time of the year again. The kick off of the holiday season is upon us: the infamous Black Friday. This day may seem like chaos to a customer, but before you complain, think about the people who are behind this extravaganza. One company, Amazon, employs an extra 15,000 staff members to help manage the holiday madness.

A BBC reporter, Adam Litter, went undercover to investigate the Amazon warehouse in Swansea, England. He documented his findings in this article. He was assigned the job called a "picker", whose duty it is to collect orders throughout a total storage area of 800,000 square ffet. What the BBC team captured on its hidden camera was insightful for me.

 Some of the details of his job, to begin, was the ten and a half hour night shift that he worked. On the job, these employees are constantly monitored. His scanner handset was his disciplinarian. It counted down the set amount of time he had to retrieve his item, and when he made a mistake, it would beep, and report it to his mangers. It was calculated in the article that the "undercover worker was expected to collect orders every 33 seconds". Mind you, that is covering the 800,000 square foot area. In response to his tiresome night, Litter stated as an employee that "we are machines, we are robots...we don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings". This quote shows the treatment of workers, and how they are reduced to objects, no longer seen as people.

In my mind, this situation as a whole situation connected to the issue of sweat shops and exploited laborers, that I have previous studied this month: grueling tasks with a wage  exploitation, specifically in England, which is intersting to me because it is not a third world country like the other countries that are better known for their sweatshops. To me, this information makes me question the labor conditions in the United States, which leads me back to  Black Friday. On such a gigantic shopping day, is there something consumers can do to ensure a fair background of the products they are purchasing? After all, the customer is the one who is creating income for the companies which they buy from, so that seems to generate some power. If consumers decided to boycott a specific retailer on Black Friday, the company might suffer major economic losses. As the consumers, we hold the power to change such circumstances. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The "Two Books in America"

Picture by Humans of New York
Today I noticed an interesting parallel that connected to our class discussion of de facto segregation.

Humans of New York is a Facebook page that posts pictures of people on the streets of New York City, with their quotes as captions. One of these pictures, specifically the quote that corresponds with it, really caught my attention.

In my opinion, the picture itself, two men sitting on a stoop, is not the most fascinating part of this piece, but instead the caption. The quote (pictured below) from one of the men describes a phenomenon that he calls the "two books in America: one for the poor and one for the rich". In other words, I believe that he is commenting on the economical stereotyping in America. As much as one tries to break free from their class, the prejudice persists.

I believe that this man is very aware of the stereotypes that he is facing, and therefore feels the need to give examples of what he is doing in his life that defies that. He lists his accomplishments, such as leaving Alabama, getting a job, and sending four kids to college, all without receiving help from welfare or food stamps. He then identifies a specific stereotype and proves that its not true in his case: "But they say all poor people do is sit around with a quart of beer. Look in this bag next to me. I've got three things in this bag next to me: a Red Bull, a Pepsi, and Draino, because my drain is clogged." To me, this seems like the opposite of confirmation bias; this man uses himself as an example to defy his stereotype. He presents his evidence right on the spot, seemingly desperate to prove the assumptions wrong. He evens finds it necessary to explain why he purchased Draino, and this reaction could possibly be a product of peoples constant suspicious due to his stereotype.

Both of the men pictured above are African-America. It very well could be a coincidence, but I think that this aspect of the photograph evokes an interesting parallel to the de facto segregation before and during the Civil Rights Movements. Also, the fact that he picked cotton is a familiar connection to that era. The man feels discriminated towards due to his economic class, a similar feeling that occurred in the African- Americans who were segregated due to their race. Even in the areas where there was no legal segregation, there were unwritten rules that discriminated against the African-Americans. There is a similar situation today where people of lower economic class are seen differently than those in higher economic classes, who seem to get special privileges, and the benefit of the doubt. As the man in the picture said, they are stuck, and by the last sentence, the man seemed exhausted: "But you see, even if I do everything right, I still have to play by the poor book". Is there anyway to break this seemingly inescapable system?