Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why do I feel guilty taking off work for MLK DAY?

by today's Urban Chameleon contributor

I'm the only Black guy at my company. I started about two and a half months ago so technically I’m still under a three-month probation before being considered a real employee.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is this Monday, as it’s celebrated the third Monday of January every year, a national holiday signed by Ronald Reagan in 1983. I noticed that my company is not closed for the holiday and I’m hot and bothered by this. This is the first time I’ve worked for a company that doesn’t acknowledge Dr. King’s birthday. Apparently, only 33% of business’ close for this day. I wonder if this is racism or taking humanity for granted? Or both? This might sound harsh, but to not acknowledge the birth of a man who died for civil rights is a harder pill for me to swallow.

The owner of the company is Jewish and I thought he’d understand the importance of commemorating a day that represents overcoming hate, murder, oppression and obtaining civil rights – hello Holocaust? I referred to the employee manual to see if I can find supporting evidence for my case. I was ready to approach the company if I saw that the office was closed for Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, but to my surprise the only three holidays we have off are the New Year, Christmas and July 4th. Oh. I had to rethink my approach to this matter.

I decided to see my manager, who also doubles up as HR, and bring the issue to her attention. In my mind, I kept reciting how delicately and politely I would approach the subject to avoid coming off like an angry Black man. A shame that we have to think this way. My manager ended up being really cool and understanding, (not understanding enough to close the office), but explained that because the company is so small with clients who don’t take off for the holiday and are so demanding we can’t afford to close, especially in such a competitive industry. However, if I wanted to take the day off I was more than welcomed, (without it even counting against my vacation days). The irony is that we are a slave to our clients. I thanked her for her time and walked back to my desk but still not satisfied.

A friend of mine told me that he has never worked for a company that's acknowledged MLK Day. He too is the only Black guy, always finding himself in a position of having to contemplate whether or not he should take the day off because feelings of guilt and isolation arise. It's like when you don't play into the culture of corporate America; being a martyr for working to the point of exhaustion. It's a company's responsibility to set a tone and by not acknowledging MLK Day you end up feeling like THAT "Black employee" missing work over THAT "Black holiday."

MLK Day isn't just about “ME and my Black people,” it's for everyone regardless of race. It reminds us of how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go; Gay people in this country are still fighting for civil rights. Women are still seeking equality. If your office can’t close for the holiday the least they can do is acknowledge the day; even if it’s just a company, “reply all” e-mail, subject: Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

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