By Gary Hardaway
During the January 16th Republican debate, Fox News panelist Juan Williams issued this challenge to Newt Gingrich. “You recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?”
Here’s one American who intends “at a minimum,” to set Mr. Williams straight.
When I was seventeen years old I got a summer job at a mill and fixture company that produced well-crafted cabinets, tables, showcases and a lot of sawdust. My main job was sweeping up. During the summer I probably moved and scooped up a ton of the stuff. And I was glad to do it. Glad to have a job. Glad to be paid the princely sum of $1.25 an hour. I did not feel insulted or devalued or degraded or dehumanized. I’m not even sure I was worth a buck twenty five, but I gladly took the money and made more that summer than I ever had before.
However, Mr. Williams, I am now insulted. Not so much for myself as for my father. The year after my summer job, my dad started working for a paint factory. He had a number of duties, including janitorial tasks. These tasks included sweeping with a broom and running a big dust machine. He worked there 12 years and then had a heart attack at work. He died on the job. A job he enjoyed. A job he was not ashamed of – and neither was his family.
Williams, what’s wrong with you? Who are you to look down your nose at my father as if his work was not honorable? Who appointed you to deprecate all people who perform janitorial services? I hope whoever cleans your office at night dumps the wastebasket on your desk and brings in another one to unload into your Corinthian leather, ergonomic, wingback executive chair.
Far more consequential than my wounded feelings is the mass impact of your moral error. You are inculcating in your young admirers some toxic, crippling attitudes.
- Disdain for honorable work and the people who perform it.
- A sense of entitlement, an inflated sense of self.
- A grossly inappropriate unwillingness to work.
- An expectation of immediate job promotion and gratification.
You didn’t succeed that way. You worked your way into prominence and affluence. But with such irresponsible talk, you are incapacitating the next generation. You are training them to fail.
In my lifetime I have worked at literally dozens of job, both short and long-term. I’ve driven trucks, sold Christmas trees, managed a paper route, taught college and university courses, edited a magazine, loaded boxcars, babysat children, and supervised a playground, to name just a few. Later in life, I came to treasure these experiences with new enthusiasm, and with an accompanying prayer, first uttered by Moses.
“May the blessing of the Lord our God rest upon us. Establish the work of our hands for us; yes, ESTABLISH THE WORK OF OUR HANDS.”
That’s HANDS, as in manual labor.
Jesus was a carpenter’s son and, in his young manhood, a carpenter himself. I’d bet a steak dinner that on Jesus’ first day in the shop he was told, “Son, sweep up the place.” Do you suppose the lad snorted, “I won’t do that? Get some poor slob to do it.” When Joseph passed away and Jesus was carrying on the business, there must have been many nights when the young man cleaned up the mess – and didn’t once think, “I shouldn’t have to stoop to this level.”
Juan, on this issue, you got it all wrong.
Gary Hardaway directs Summit School of Ministry in Northwest Washington, where he teaches a course on “Joy at Work,” a Christian perspective on the significance of one’s work and calling.