The Rev. William Barber
Associated Press/Photo by Gerry Broome
The Rev. William Barber

Slavery, Jim Crow, and McDonald’s


The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, penned an article earlier this week in which he analogized the post–Civil War Reconstruction era and the end of government-mandated racial segregation in schools with McDonald’s employees protesting against wages they say are too low.

Barber said that as he prayed with striking workers and watched police handcuff and arrest them at a recent protest, he “could not help but think of the historic arc of the civil rights movement. For all the gains we have been making, the treatment of low-paid workers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world ranks high in the more significant causes of the growing inequalities in the U.S.”

Barber is the same man who said it’s morally wrong for children to attend schools closer to their homes, but instead they should be shipped across town for racial balance.

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Now I’m the last person who’d argue that the 1960s-era civil rights movement is sacred. It isn’t. That was a moment in history when some people in the movement appealed to “Christian love” to remove racial barriers, and they sought to use non-violent means—and prayer—to encourage change. But to cite this particular movement to imply that companies in the business of making money owe employees a living (or lobby the government for special rights based on sexual behavior) is disingenuous.

Barber calls the post–Civil War Reconstruction period in the South the “First Reconstruction” and dubs the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 the “Second Reconstruction.” And this is where it gets strange. As fast-food workers strike for more money, we’re “on the threshold of the Third Reconstruction Movement”:

“We must listen to workers like Cherri Delesline, mother of four from South Carolina, who makes the same $7.35 an hour she made on her first day at McDonald’s 10 years ago. Hear the voice of Adriana Alvarez, a single mother from Chicago, who makes pennies above minimum wage at McDonald’s and has to rely on public assistance to care for her son.”

Low-wage jobs are not slavery or Jim Crow. Workers are paid what employers believe they’re worth and what the market bears. No one is forced to work at McDonald’s. No one owes anyone a living, not even highly profitable corporations. That is a cold, hard fact. No one owes you health insurance. No one owes you a meal or a roof over your head. I pray these women have a church to turn to (or they will seek one out), where they can ask for help. Appealing to Christian charity is biblical.

Generally, our bad circumstances are usually our own fault. It is not the company’s fault—or mine or yours—that a woman has children out of wedlock, gets no help from the father(s), and can’t make ends meet. It’s unfortunate, especially for the children, who bear the consequences of someone else’s bad decisions.

Demanding that our government, which we fund, treat us equally is a civil right. Demanding that a business pay us what we think we’re worth is entitlement. But you can always ask.

La Shawn Barber
La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications


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