Racial Bias at Texaco, Avis Shocks Nation `in Denial'

By Ap | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 17, 1996 | Go to article overview

Racial Bias at Texaco, Avis Shocks Nation `in Denial'


Ap, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


From radio talk shows to water coolers, Americans have expressed surprise and astonishment at allegations of overt racism inside the Texaco oil and Avis car rental companies.

But those who are amazed aren't black.

As sordid stories seep out that some Avis Rent-A-Car locations in the Carolinas rebuffed prospective black customers for no good reason, and that senior Texaco officials derided African-American employees as "black jelly beans" and worse, many blacks are left with an "I told you so" feeling. "This demonstrates that we aren't just paranoid about the country we live in," said Todd Boyd, associate professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California. "I didn't need the managers at Texaco to confirm that for me, but that's what they did." Lawrence Otis Graham, whose consulting firm in White Plains, N.Y., tracks the progress of minorities and women in corporate America, said he wished the cases at Texaco and Avis were aberrations. He doubts they are. "Many companies have no idea how bad a job they are doing," Graham said. "They might give a contribution to La Raza or the NAACP, but being generous doesn't make them a good or fair employer." View Of The Top Charges of racism are nothing new for police and courts, but the Avis and Texaco cases gave the public rare glimpses of how attitudes about race can collide with big business. In the same way videotaped evidence of Rodney King's beating in Los Angeles lent credence to longtime claims by minorities of widespread police brutality, Graham said, the Texaco and Avis cases will cement forever the image of racist corporate executives for many blacks. "When popular culture deals with racism, we deal with Archie Bunker or red neck stereotypes, never Texaco executives," said Joe Feagin, a University of Florida sociology professor who has researched America's race relations for 30 years. "But upper- and middle-class whites can cause the greatest harm because they have the power. They can keep corporate boardrooms all white or exclude blacks from living in a neighborhood," Feagin said. Civil rights lawyers in North Carolina filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against Avis and the owner of five Avis outlets in North Carolina and South Carolina for refusing to rent cars to blacks. The lawyers representing would-be customers said corporate officials did nothing to stop it. A former manager for Avis Rent-A-Car says franchises in the Carolinas denied rentals to blacks over the past few years "if there was any way out of it." Eleven days after a tape of a secretly recorded Texaco board meeting was made public, the oil giant settled a long-pending class-action suit Friday for $176. …

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