Monday, September 19, 2011

Putting my money where my mouth (or ethics) is

So there's this weird American idiom, "Putting my money where my mouth is"--and I'm not even sure how apropos it is for the post I'm going to write, but somehow that's what came to mind as a title when I thought about recounting a recent decision that Southern Man and I just made.

We have decided that it's time for the house to be painted--a daunting prospect because while it's not a large house that we have, it is an original mill house from 1949 with real wood siding--and since it's the South, it means that paint peels and you have to re-paint or at least touch-up your house every 5-7 years if you have real wood siding. Which is also an expensive prospect. I think we'd even think about doing the job ourselves, except we both have a healthy fear of heights and it is a two-story house we're talking about (and it would just look a little odd to only have the first floor painted).

Anyway, we have been interviewing painters this week and the first and lowest bid that we got is from a Painter I'll call "Joe" (not his real name). Now what you need to know is that I live in a very liberal town--it's not even the college town that Southern U. is in--it's the uber-liberal, crunchy-granola, recently gentrified formerly working class enclave that is located right next to the college town. It has the highest property taxes in the entire state because it's a small town with many residences but a tiny downtown business district and a population that likes slow to no growth. It's the kind of place that had Obama placards all over the place, where you can actually see the occassional same-sex couple holding hands (just saw two women strolling down my neighborhood the other day), and where the locavore movement reigns supreme.

So Joe comes and he's a chatty guy--mostly Southern Man is showing him around the house since I've holed up in my office to try to finish some fellowship applications. But I get called out so that I can get introduced to Joe and to see if I have any additional questions. I mention to Joe that the last time I had the house painted, I hadn't been that happy with the company I used because they were these contractors who farmed the work out to other people who weren't part of their company. And before I could explain further, Joe says:

"Oh, I use my own crew, and I never hire Hispanics"

Cue awkward pause.

Joe seemed oblivious at our discomfort and just kept talking away about what he and his crew would do to the house. And then, for some inexplicable reason, he showed us pictures of his cessna right before he left. He also, oddly enough, didn't try to shake hands with us. And he seemed, as Southern Man put it, odd and awkward, especially when I came out of the house.

The thing is, it's clear that Joe knows what he's talking about in terms of painting--and that he'd do a good job (we were referred to him by a very reputable source). But the minute he made that remark about "Hispanics" there was no way we could hire him. And truthfully, I wonder if we threw him off when I walked out of the house--that he may not have been expecting and inter-racial couple (although again, he's sort've an idiot if he didn't think that making a remark about "Hispanics" to an inter-racial couple in a liberal town wasn't going to go over well).

Anyway, the next guy is about $2000 above his price, but I think we have to do it--because at the end of the day, if I just talk the talk but don't walk the walk, what does that say about me as someone committed to issues of racial awareness/diversity/anti-racism?


Dianne said...

I agree with you -- sometimes you have to pay more to stay true to yourself and your values. And your title is apropos.
We are relatively new to the south, and there have been a few very uncomfortable moments for us with hiring contractors. The electrician showed up with his son who had a skinhead t-shirt on. We all stood in our kitchen looking around and up and down, everywhere but at the obvious thing. We had him back once more -- I felt like he must have felt badly; he charged a couple hundred less than his quote. But the second time, he was about to do the work wrong, and my husband called him on it. Two days later (instead of the original 4 hours he quoted), his worker finished the work and we were never billed.
Then my husband hired a guy with a ditch witch. He spent the whole time at our house calling his Hispanic worker Juan, Pedro, Rodriguez, Jesus and any other name that came to mind. My husband found him so disrespectful that he would not have him back to complete the job.
Yes, put your money where your ethics are, or get some more bids.

Jennifer Imazeki said...

I was brought up by parents who strongly believed in boycotting businesses when the values of the people running those businesses conflicted with ours - I still remember asking my mom why we couldn't eat at Carl's Jr. and my mom saying, "Because Carl Sr doesn't think women are equal to men" (apparently, he gave a lot of money to fight the ERA). So I think you definitely should go with the more expensive guy. Along similar lines (but also completely different), I've been debating getting solar panels for my house. Since I don't use much electricity in the first place, the monthly payments (for the loan to cover the panels) would actually be a lot MORE than I currently pay but the system would almost completely cover my usage. It's worth it to me to reduce my carbon footprint so much but everyone I've talked to has seemed to think I'm nuts. But I do think that if we only hold to our ideals when it is convenient (or cost-effective), then that doesn't really say much about our ideals, does it?

Anon :) said...

Hi Jennifer,

I'm enjoying reading articles on your thought-provoking blog. I just had feedback on some of the links on your “Links to Look at” section. I'm not sure how to email you directly, so I'm writing a comment (feel free NOT to publish). Just as an FYI, the “Association for Asian American Studies” and “Hapa Studies” links no longer work. “Mixed Asians” links to some kind of discussion forum that seems really broad. Maybe the domain has changed over (?) - just wanted to make sure it was linking to what you intended it to.

Best wishes!

Jennifer said...

Dianne & Jennifer,
Thanks for your comments. I know I don't reply in a timely manner sometime, but I did want you to know that I appreciate all the things you have to say and for sharing your own stories about ethical/moral stands.

We have decided to go with a contractor who was mid-range but who is local (lives in our town), was recommended by our neighbor, does work for some organizations at the university and (drumroll....) is Latino. And his crew is Latino. And we are happy with his work.

Anon, thanks for letting me know that some of these links aren't working. I'm going to try to update the blog this weekend and will get cracking on fixing those links!