Earlier this week, a newly hired firefighter brought a watermelon as a gift for his colleagues on the first day of work. Unfortunately, rather than thank him for the nice gift, they complained that it was “racially insensitive” and had him IMMEDIATELY fired. This was despite the fact that the terminated firefighter, who was reportedly caught off caught, insists that he wasn’t trying to make a joke, he was simply trying to be nice.
Specifically, Robert Pattison, a 41-year-old prospective firefighter, recently got a job working at the Engine 55 fire station in Detroit, Michigan. Traditionally, new hires come bearing some sort of gift, usually donuts, for their new coworkers on their first day.
“It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary. You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring whatever you want to bring in,” explained the station’s Second Battalion Chief, Shawn McCarty.
Not one to disappoint, Pattison was happy to participate in the ‘tradition.” However, instead of bringing donuts, which was quite unoriginal, he decided to bring a massive watermelon with a pink bow on top.
For those who are “colorblind” to race, Pattison’s gift will just seem like a kind gift honoring the tradition of the fire station. It’s just one human giving a delicious fruit to other humans. But for those who focus incessantly on people’s race, due to the fact that watermelons have been used to caricature and dehumanize black Americans during the long period of segregation in the South following the Civil War, his gesture was seen as a white person disrespecting black people. To them, Pattison basically did the equivalent of burning a cross.
Sadly, his co-workers, 90% of whom are black, are among those in the latter category. Upon seeing Pattison, who is presumably not black, bearing the delectable treat, they were instantly outraged and immediately complained. Since Pattison was technically a probationary firefighter, when Detroit’s Fire Commissioner, Eric Jones, heard about the drama, he was consequently fired.
Shortly after terminating Pattison, Jones released a statement defending his decision to do so. “There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department,” explained Jones. “After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the best course of action was to terminate the employment of this probationary employee,” he added.
But clearly, the reasoning used to justify his termination is completely absurd. People shouldn’t be held accountable for the way other people react. Seeing as they can’t control the reactions everyone has, and the fact that everyone has different reactions to different things, It’s simply unfair. Instead, what should matter is whether or not Pattison intending to be offensive or racially insensitive, and based on the evidence available, this does not appear to be the case. Because of this, he should be reinstated as a firefighter.
Also, since Pattison was essentially fired because of the color of his skin, his termination was blatantly racist. This is because, if he was black and brought the same gift, it’s likely that he wouldn’t have been fired.
Following Pattison’s termination, McCarty was asked whether he thought he should have lost his job over a fruit. “I don’t think so,” replied McCarty. “Between what he did and what was there are a few things that could have been done,” he reasoned.
Fortunately, McCarty is not the only person who thinks Pattison shouldn’t have been fired. In fact, shortly after his termination, numerous people got together and started a petition on Change.org to have him reinstated. As of now, it has a little more than half of the necessary signatures.
Hopefully, if enough people sign the petition and pressure the station, Pattison can get his job back. Simply put, no one should be fired for trying to do something nice, even if others end up taking it the wrong way.