COMMENTARY: Why We Should Be Ashamed of Geoffrey Owens’ Situation

Over the Labor Day holiday, social media was abuzz with the revelation that former Cosby Show cast regular, Geoffrey Owens was spotted working at a Trader Joe’s these days. In case you missed it, or need a refresher, here’s what happened:

As seen in the video above, Owens recounted his immediate reaction to being “outed” as a regular guy with a regular job (especially after having some measure of fame earlier in his career) as pure “shame.” Owens would go on to say that he eventually moved beyond feeling ashamed and was happy that the public (at least those of us who are mature adults) rallied behind him, applauding him for his bravery through the circumstances.

But the real phenomena we all should take in is that this actor and family man was made to feel “outed” and “shamed” at all. Why? Jobshaming is something that starts on the playground in our childhood as peers compare parent’s resumes to joc for heirarchy in the pecking order; as if somehow, our parents doing something great made us residually great in some way. As we grow up, our shared perceptions of mediocrity evolve into fears of “working at McDonalds” or being a janitor or trash collector – when, in actuality, in order for our society to work everyone has to in fact occupy all positions at every level.

This gives flight to the axiom that there are dirty jobs and someone has to do them – just preferably someone else filling said undesirable positions, right? As Geoffrey Owens eloquently said on Good Morning America,

“there is no job better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume…”

…and he’s 100% correct. There is no job better than another.

While there are a multitude of lessons to learn from this situation, there are a couple of pertinent takeaways I want you to consider: First, remember that we’re born into a society that demands we work to earn our respective livings. Sure, there are ways to leave behind wealth for your children to ease that call of duty, but the call to arms persists for all men/women in our country (among others) as the only guarantees in this society are death and taxes. So if you want to acquire shelter, comfort and options to expand your horizons – you gotta get a job. That being said, capitalism requires poverty in order for the abundantly wealthy to get richer year over year; so inherently wages cannot be equal for all in order for the top 1% to have their bonuses and for each manager throughout each organization to feel adequately compensated for their responsibility over their respective departments. Point 1 being – we would be wise to remember that the hierarchy of pay in our economic system doesn’t exist because certain workers have less value than others, rather the system demands someone be on the losing end of the pay scale in order for someone else to win. Being paid less doesn’t equate to someone being a lesser person, which brings me to my second and final point.

Humans are insecure animals by nature. We are driven by our inherent need to find security and thus we flock to social groups within our culture that make us feel safer in our skin. An unintended consequence of this flocking, we then build an identity within those groups and feel the need to bolster how special our specific clique is over others and seek out the collect symbols of our self-seen greatness. Our jobs are both one of those groupings and symbols at once, and the best trick ever played is to get another group to believe that your “class” of work is of more esteem than another. It’s all classicism at its finest and most basic form.

At the end of the day, we should rejoice for Geoffrey Owens that he can now wear his Trader Joe’s tag in public and feel proud, but we should continue to mourn for those in our society who we depend on to serve us – yet in return we despise and disrespect them in our attitudes and thanklessness. We look at our President and shame him for building a wall to keep people out, when the answer to ending that kind of hate is to tear down the metaphorical walls we build in our own minds about the service sector (among other prejudices), the very people who proudly wait on us daily.

A job is a job…it doesn’t make you a better or worse element of our society to clock in with a blue collar or a white one. What remains relevant, however, is no matter what job you have or what check amount you cash…

…just make sure you are doing it proudly, the player way.


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