Job-Shaming

A few weeks ago, Geoffrey Owens, a former actor on The Cosby Show, was the subject of not-so-good headlines. The Daily Mail had a headline titled “From Learning Lines to Serving the Long Line! The ‘Cosby Show’ Star Geoffrey Owens is Spotted Working as a Cashier at Trader Joe’s in New Jersey.” Other gossip news sources had headlines that period also highlighting this supposed “fall from grace” for the actor. Generally, many of the unsavory headlines related to Owens took on some version of “oh look at how the mighty have fallen.”

In truth, Owens still acts and took this grocery store job to supplement his acting income. But even if he had gone from being an actor to bagging groceries, we most certainly should not shame anyone for working an honest job.

We do put certain jobs on a pedestal, such as being a head of state, heading a Fortune 500 company, or being a major religious leader. But there are other jobs, such as fast food work, garbage collection, and cashiering, that are often viewed in a disrespectful and demeaning way. To an extent, I understand why it’s like that—we as a society value money, power, celebrity, and/or influence, and a job like being a cashier doesn’t seem to bring any money, power, and/or influence in the minds of many. At the same time, though, any job that contributes to the improvement of society, no matter how large or small that job may seem, should be respected and not job-shamed.

Therefore, I propose that the following groups, among others, should get more respect:
1. Garbage workers, because they keep our streets and neighborhoods clean.
2. Grocery store workers, fast food workers, waiters and waitresses, and cooks who aren’t at high-end restaurants, because they are part of the process of making sure that we have food to eat.
3. Janitors, because our homes and buildings would not be clean without them.
4. Farmers, because we would not have food without them.
5. Plumbers, because we would not have functioning showers, sinks, and toilets without them.
6. Teachers, because so much of what we know comes from the work that teachers do.
7. Daycare workers, because little children would not have a place to go in the daytime without them.
8. Mechanics, because they help our cars function.

The value of a profession shouldn’t be measured in wealth, power, or prestige, but on the fact that people are helped as a result of the work. Any profession where people are helped as a result of the work in an honorable profession, a profession that does not deserve job-shaming.

20 Replies to “Job-Shaming”

  1. Thanks for shining a light on this topic.My father has been a semi truck driver since I was two years old, hauling everything from cattle to corn to hazardous liquids. In 3rd grade my friends and I were on the playground and saw a big rig so we gestured for him to honk his horn and he did and we loved it. Then some nasty playground aide said, “Don’t do that, truck drivers are bad people.” (I’d say it’s likely there are more sociopaths at Fortune 500 companies and in government than driving trucks.)
    People have zero respect for the men and women who work long hard days-sometimes days long hauls- getting things from point A to point B. It’s not glamorous, it’s often dirty and smells bad or contributes to traffic but it’s necessity.

    Those fancy gadgets don’t get to the store via teleportation, so let’s appreciate the men and women driving the trucks who do haul the things we need to where we can get them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome! And I totally agree about truck drivers! While I didn’t specifically mention truck drivers in my post (it would be difficult to name every single profession that gets job-shamed), they get unfairly job-shamed too on multiple levels.

      PS My alma mater’s beloved crossing guard used to be a truck driver. It’s only further evidence that your teacher’s aide was wrong. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One rarely sees a person in their prime working years operating check out machines in big box stores. This indicates to me that such posts are entry level positions filled by entry level people, part-timers or retirees returning to work. there is no shame in that.

    Having an adult, married son, who works full time as a custodian, the issue of job shaming not unfamilar to me.

    And the fact is that in this society white males don’t work in physical labor or care taking jobs. There are many who do, but decades in the construction sector has shown that blue collar work has no social panache.

    White men are to be men of affairs, who earn big bucks through their organizing ability and acumen, not people moving through life, working to pay their bills and improve the community.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You raise some good points Robert.

      What you’re saying (correct me if I’m wrong) is that some job-shaming comes from the fact that some jobs go against what a stereotypical person “like them” should do. That’s so true. I think we saw that with Geoffrey Owens because we don’t think that someone like him should be working at a Trader Joe’s. It sounds like you see that with your son because we don’t think that someone like him should be a custodian.

      Until we address the fact that we stereotype some jobs as going against what someone “should do,” then we definitely won’t be able to address a lot of the job-shaming that happens.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Like

  3. Wonderful post. thank you. My father was also a semi-driver. I also have an adult married son who works as a prep cook at a restaurant very happily — more time to read, to think. In my long experience of ministry I have often found that folks who work in very direct ways with the life of the world are filled with compassion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome Maren. 🙂

      The tough thing is that these jobs like your dad’s or your son’s get stigmatized, even though these are jobs that help others and serve others in their own ways. It really begs the question of whether we value help of others or power and influence for oneself.

      Like

  4. Great post Brendan! I’ve often thought (and sometimes talked) about this too.
    We put surgeons, CEOs, etc. on pedestals but they already rewarded for their work with large paychecks. The Owens story is a great example on how society at large is so wrong on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To me the Geoffrey Owens story is not about job shaming as much as structural racism. For Christ sake he graduated cum laude from Yale. How did he end up there? We are not talking about an uneducated man with no options or degrees. How many Ivy League white male cum laude end up working at Trader Joe’s?

    As I said this story is more than job shaming it’s the outcome of structural racism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I have read up on this story and on the type of career Geoffrey Owens has, it seems like it’s actually quite common for actors to also have supplemental jobs on the side.

      It would be interesting to find out though what sort of side jobs Mr. Owens has compared to other similar actors and actresses. Do they all work at places like Trader Joe’s? It’s possible that Mr. Owens’ job is a product of structural racism, but once again, maybe not.

      Another thing to consider is that he apparently enjoys his side job at Trader Joe’s. If I recall correctly, he likes the people there and likes the flexibility that his job gives him to pursue his acting career. So that might help somewhat answer your question of how he is there.

      It might still be a case of structural racism. If a) white people with similar acting careers get higher paying side jobs and b) white people with similar acting careers have an easier time getting jobs with the flexibility that Mr. Owens wants then I think a link can definitely be made to structural racism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe if such research were conducted and stratified to control for other factors you would find structural racism a big factor in why he had to take side jobs at Trader Joes after having “made it” in acting.

        I don’t look down on people who bag groceries. I’m just saying there is something awry when a person graduates cum laude from an Ivy league school, becomes a star and ends up bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s to make ends meet. It may be that black actors were paid significantly less than white actors and as you said don’t have access to higher paying side jobs.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Or side jobs that offer the flexibility that Mr. Owens likes. He does seem to like the flexibility at his side job, but there is a question as to whether white actors with his experience have an easier time finding jobs with that flexibility (or higher-paying jobs with that flexibility).

        I’m sure you don’t look down on someone who bags groceries. But at the same time I think that you also raise some really important questions about structural racism and access to jobs (even for well-educated people of color such as Mr. Owens).

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The sad things is that most of these jobs are important jobs, vital to the functioning of society, whereas many of the people who earn the most money (and therefore often earn the most respect) just shuffle money or paper around, or make or sell things that people do not need or really want

    Liked by 1 person

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