Races working together is on-the-job training


October 20, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

In August, a federal judge upheld a worker-compensation ruling that awarded a 64-year-old Florida woman $50,000 in disability benefits because she had developed a phobia concerning black people and thus was unable to work with them.

The woman, Ruth Jandrucko, had been mugged by a black man while out on business in 1986. Doctors, co-workers and supervisors testified on behalf of Mrs. Jandrucko, who is white, that she had harbored no prejudices against blacks before the mugging.

Coincidentally, a Maryland administrative law judge in August upheld the firing of an equal opportunity officer at the state Department of Agriculture who seemingly had become unable to work with white males.

This 50-year-old woman, formerly known as Ann Brim White, had made a trip to Africa in 1988, received a new name in a ceremony in Gambia and returned with what she describes as a new understanding and love for her "Afro-centricity."

Shortly after trying to practice her version of Afro-centricity in her office, she was fired for "wantonly offensive" conduct toward her fellow employees, "insubordination" and "a serious breach of discipline."

According to state documents, she was counseled repeatedly by her supervisors about her new practice of hugging and kissing co-workers and clients without their consent.

She was warned not to include her religious beliefs and personal opinions in official state documents, such as her observation in an annual report that the state should not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday because he was a mere human capable of moral failings.

She was warned to register complaints against her supervisors through the state grievance process and not through what she calls "epistles," or sacred letters, which she distributed throughout the city. Having changed her name to Saint Kammefa Ann Marie Scrivener Brim White Saint, she insisted that her co-workers address her as "Saint."

When one co-worker refused, remarking that the only "Saint" he knew was "Bernard," she accused him in an "epistle" of "lawlessness, bigotry, racism, bowing to the will of white management, wicked, intolerant to black women, and hateful."

"I'm very proud of what I did because I'm simply reclaiming my heritage and coming to understand my own sacredness," St. Kammefa , said yesterday.

"As I said in my hearing, white people, in particular white men, do not have any moral authority over me. White males have ruined us and I don't want to work with them. I don't want them to possess my soul anymore. They are so secular that they have divorced themselves from anything that has to do with innate goodness."

Now, if you apply the standards established in the Florida case, it seems clear that the woman now known as St. Kammefa has become incapable of ever working comfortably with whites again. Under the Jandrucko standard, St. Kammefa should receive disability benefits. What is good for one race should be good for another.

But I don't agree with the Jandrucko standard -- if for no other reason than it was delivered in Florida, which is fast becoming the Crackpot Capital of the Western World. Remember the zeal with which they pursued 2 Live Crew and ensnared poor Pee Wee Herman? I think some residents there have sipped too deeply from the Fountain of Loon.

But the Jandrucko and St. Kammefa cases serve to illustrate the complex and often abrasive nature of race relations in the workplace. Over the years, I have received numerous complaints from blacks who believe they are being persecuted by their white supervisors.

The truth has often seemed more complicated than that: Misunderstandings balloon into confrontations. Feelings get hurt. Careers get ruined.

True, most of us fall somewhere in between the Jandrucko and St. Kammefa extremes. Mrs. Jandrucko's reaction to a mugging was racist. St. Kammefa crossed the line between Afro-centricity and eccentricity.

But in the arena of work relations, all of us are engaged in on-the-job training.

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