Wal-Mart’s support of the Voting Rights Act’s renewal is important, given that when the Congressional Black Caucus first visited our president to discuss the VRA, he didn’t even know what it was. But let’s hope this shrewd public relations move doesn’t convince too many people that Wal-Mart is a friend of civil rights, and that the CBC, the NAACP and other black organizations taking Wal-Mart’s money don’t turn a blind eye to the company’s racism.
An example: Tommy Armstrong, a former yard driver at Wal-Mart’s Searcy, Arkansas distribution center, has filed a race discrimination suit against the company. A potential class action, Tommy Armstrong v. Wal-Mart Stores exposes a statistic that, if true, the company will find difficult to explain: 15 percent of the on-the-road truck drivers in the United States are African-American, but in Wal-Mart’s 10,000-plus fleet, that percentage is closer to 2 to 3 percent. (You know, it’s just so difficult to find black men in the South.)
Armstrong, a trucker with twenty years experience, and a driving record that more than met the company’s requirements, began applying to drive Wal-Mart trucks on the road in 1997. His supervisor told him he’d never get the job. After rejecting Armstrong, the company hired several white people for the same position. He kept trying, applying every year for the next six years. According to his complaint, filed in federal court in Helena, Arkansas in June, Armstrong was given vague, ever-changing reasons for his rejection. He wasn’t “fleet material.” In 2003, the Searcy personnel manager, without reviewing the records, told Armstrong that he had a “gut feeling” that he didn’t meet the qualifications. To Wal-Mart, perhaps, experience and driving ability are physically apparent, as obvious as the color of one’s skin. We do have a name for these kinds of feelings.