by Byron Gafford and Wendy Mi-Shing Fong, Poor News Network Race and Poverty Scholar
On Wednesday, March 25, Byron Gafford, a contracted security guard with Advanced Tech Security, was let go from his position based on cultural, racial and religious discrimination at the George Lucas Arts Building B on 1 Letterman St. in the Presidio of San Francisco, California.
Management gave him no warning or explanation, took his badge, told him to vacate the premises and that he would no longer be an employee there.
“Every day, like I’ve been doing for the past seven months, when the employees enter into the lobby I would greet them with ‘Good morning’ and ‘God bless you,’ and no one ever responded back to me in a negative way,” said Byron. “I greeted everyone the same way. I never knew that I offended anyone and no one ever mentioned to me that I was offensive in my greetings to any employees. My supervisors have never expressed to me that my greetings were inappropriate.”
The day started out as a typical day. Byron started his shift at 6:30 a.m. and was at his post by 7 a.m. to open the building. Five minutes later, while he was at his desk, a female Lucas employee came into the lobby.
As is his custom, he greeted her politely and commented, “God woke me up at three o’clock in the morning,” a reference to his late night work schedule. The female employee departed while Byron continued with his duties. He continued his day and took his first 15-minute break at 8 a.m., lunch at 10:30 a.m. and his third break at 1 p.m. By 1:45 p.m., he was called by management and asked to leave.
We at Poor Magazine are exposing Lucasfilm’s blatant cultural, racial and religious discrimination against Byron Gafford. The huge entertainment company is making what Dr. Wade Nobles defines as a “transubstantive error” by interpreting Byron’s comment as inappropriate, yet it gives him no explanation or notice of his termination.
Transubstantive error is defined as making a wrong and assumptive conclusion about the value of people and what they mean by looking at their surface behaviors. In the ‘60s, Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Moynihan was assigned to examine the Black family as part of a welfare study ordained by President Lyndon Johnson. Upon his assignment he made a transubstantive error by deeming the Black family environment as a “broken home [that] would cause negative things to occur in the development of children.”
Dr. Nobles is a tenured professor in Black Studies at San Francisco State University and the executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture in Oakland. He says that Daniel Moynihan made the mistake of interpreting Black family values and behaviors from the perspective of his own European culture.
“He draws the wrong conclusion,” says Dr. Nobles. “So the entire time he is examining them, there was this whole notion of families with women without husbands raising children, which he deemed a broken home.”
Dr. Nobles concludes: “The mistake he was making was that the instillation of values in the development of children is not tied to mother-father linkage; it is tied to a system of eldership. A system of eldership does not believe in just a nuclear family to raise children, but it is the responsibility of both the immediate and extended families to raise them, including aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and so on.
“Almost like a hierarchy of eldership, all of these elements contribute to improving the development of children. And so you have African American people behaving in a certain way that is uncommon and unfamiliar to someone with a European background, and it becomes misinterpreted and seen as broken, or wrong and less than, thus causing a transubstantive error.”
The female employee of George Lucas found Byron’s morning greeting to be offensive. However, by placing that negative judgment upon Byron, like Daniel Moynihan, she is committing a transubstantive error. She, as a white woman with a Eurocentric background, is deeming Byron’s entire cultural value system as inappropriate, as he is a spiritual man and an African American man.
But Lucasfilm, which contracted the security company, denies responsibility, said Emilie Nicks, the company’s public relations representative. “Mr. Gafford was not an employee of Lucasfilm and he was not fired by Advanced Tech Security, the company that employed him. Letterman Digital Arts, Ltd., has multiple tenants in the complex. One of the tenants registered a complaint about Mr. Gafford. Advanced Tech Security advised Mr. Gafford of the complaint and told him that he would be reassigned from the post at the Letterman complex.”
With the privatization of services on the rise, there also comes less accountability. Large corporations and entities like city and county governments contract with private companies for all sorts of services, from security guards to prisons. Yet, when a conflict occurs with the contracted company, the corporations deny any responsibility.
Lucasfilm refuses to issue a written statement on the reason for Byron’s termination. “I contacted Advanced Tech Security to contact Lucasfilm about why I was let go, but they said if they want anything they have to take it to court,” said Byron. “I am on call and last week barely worked three to four hours. I might have to file for unemployment if I can’t find another job.”
Advanced Tech Security has declined to comment.
This incident is an example of cultural digression and it is illegal. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Lucasfilm is discriminating against Byron based on his culture, his race and his religion, resulting in the loss of his position.
“George Lucas heads a media corporation,” says Tiny, editor of Poor Magazine. “They supposedly produce diverse media but have judged and decided on someone else’s value system and fired him. Byron is a writer, he is hard working, he is supporting a family.”
Byron Gafford is an innocent bystander caught in a transubstantive error and was wrongly let go from his position under federal anti-discrimination law and without any legal justification. We need to combine our forces to hold George Lucas accountable and expose this hypocrisy before they strike again in our community. Discrimination is intolerable.
Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at www.poormagazine.org.