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September 5 2018

More On Geoffrey Owens, My Trader Joe's Hero

by Charlotte Hays

Patrice already has blogged on former "Cosby Show" star Geoffrey Owens, but I was so inspired by the response to Owens' story that I want to add a few words.

As Patrice recounted, Owens was "spotted" bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joe's.

The immediate reaction was appalling. Instead of commending Owens,Daily Mail, which broke the story, quoted a woman who had witnessed the supposed degradation first-hand:

'It was a shock to see him working there and looking the way he did.

'It made me feel really bad. I was like, "Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier."

Mr. Owens, for the record, looked fine in the accompanying photo but this woman's value system does indeed shock.  "Ended up a cashier?" What kind of person even thinks this?

A tweeter suggested (without a shred of irony, given that the leading actor did something much worse than honest labor):

Cosby was proven right . . . elvin [the character Owens played] was not good enough to date his daughter.

And another ridiculer tweeted:

Cliff warned him not to leave medical school and start that wilderness supply store

The ridicule was infuriating, reflecting something I blog about from time: our loss of respect for work.

But then something wonderful happened. In response to the news reports and reidcule, people began to praise Mr. Owens and also to speak about the dignity of work. It made me feel that all is not lost.

Robin Roberts of Good Morning America interviewed Owens on the air--both were terrific advocates of honest work.  Ms. Roberts talked about how Owens had been "job shamed."

Entertainment Weekly reported on the GMA segment:   

Owens — who was proudly wearing his Trader Joe’s name tag — said he was “really devastated” at first — until celebrities and fans alike jumped to his defense on social media.

“The period of devastation was so short because so shortly after that, the responses, my wife and I started to read [them] … and fortunately the shame part didn’t last very long,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

“It’s really overwhelming, in a good way,” he continued. “I kind of feel like that character in that Woody Allen movie that wakes up one morning and he’s a celebrity all of a sudden … it came out of nowhere. I really want to thank everybody out there … for the incredible support, the amazing support and positivity that they’ve shown for me. It’s quite astounding.”

. . .

Owens went on to say that he hopes his experience will reshape “what it means to work, the honor of the working person, [and] the dignity of work.”

“I hope that this period that we’re in now, where we have a heightened sensitivity about that, and a reevaluation of what it means to work and the idea that some jobs are better than others — that’s actually not true,” he said. “There is no job that’s better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”

“No one should feel sorry for me,” he added. “I’ve had a great life. I’ve had a great career. I’ve had a career that most actors would die for. So no one has to feel sorry for me. I’m doing fine!”

CNN had a headline that said it all:

Geoffrey Owens' Message to Job Shamers: Honor the Dignity of Work

Tyler Perry offered Owens a job and celebrities took to social media to talk about the jobs they had had while pursuing an acting dream.

From time to time, we read about people who get on food stamps to tide themselves through a rough period.

Without commenting on that, can we suggest that the original shaming of Mr. Owens probably would not have occurred if he'd been "spotted" using food stamps?

But he got an honest job and ultimately showed us something about dignity.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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