Our Man in Arlington

August 13, 2018 5:10 PM0 comments

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Remnants of old-time racial hostility, it appears, have persisted among certain staff at Arlington’s Army Navy Country Club.

I heard it from an anguished former golf course employee who showed me evidence of race-based mockery, including the tiresome use of bananas for insults.

His story, backed by photos and workplace recordings but not fully corroborated, portrays the club unfavorably for its handling of one VIP member—former President Obama.

James Teal, a 54-year-old African American raised outside Greensboro, N.C., was hired by the club this May as a golf cart attendant. His job was to “greet members, take their clubs from their cars, and set up tee times,” he told me.

Teal found the job satisfying, even though the tip-dependent pay was low. “Army Navy is a beautiful course and facility, but there is a dark secret,” he said.

What may have started as jokes from Teal’s direct supervisor Jamal (I’m omitting his last name because efforts to reach him were unsuccessful) grew into routine taunts about bananas and monkeys.

Teal explained that because he left his house daily at 4 a.m., before club breakfast service opens, he would stop at 7-Eleven for fruit. Jamal, said Teal, would greet him with screeching monkey noises. And comments such as “you monkeys are not allowed in the pro shop.”

When former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer visited Army Navy, James had a photo taken with him, and Jamal commented, “Oh, a monkey and a Republican.”

In June, word came down that Obama was due to play golf. “Your boy will be here soon, and we don’t want any monkey business,” Jamal told Teal.

Because Obama is Teal’s “favorite person,” he felt like “a kid at Disneyland.” When the former president arrived, Teal scored a photo with him. Obama cheerfully insisted on posing with Teal’s Obama cardboard cutout that he had signed.

On July 12, as Teal was driving a cart, his boss handed him one of his bananas inscribed: “James, I have banana, come get me, monkey.” The stunt spoiled Teal’s joy. “Obama knows Jamal well, but he doesn’t know what is said behind his back,” Teal told me.

Teal explained his breakfast habits to Jamal, but he was wondering, “What have I gotten myself into? These shenanigans weren’t going to stop, and the job was becoming hostile.”

After receiving the inscribed banana, Teal went to the cart barn and cried. He didn’t feel higher-level supervisors would be sympathetic. So he followed through on a plan he had mentioned earlier to the manager — that if he didn’t get a raise, he would quit.

When I queried the club, manager Patrick King was not speaking to the press. Two attorneys on the case also declined calls. Obama’s office too.

An attorney retained briefly by Teal declined to speak on the record. But I confirmed independently that the club sent Teal a letter saying Jamal had been dismissed. And that club staff will receive sensitivity training.

Teal feels his status as a whistleblower precludes a return to Army Navy, so he’s considering resuming his career as a home health aide.

Black Lives Matter is planning a protest on Columbia Pike, he said.

Teal would like the club to publicly apologize–to him and Obama. And perhaps get some restitution for suffering those “racist, foul, vulgar comments.”

***

Congrats to both Arlington and the City of Falls Church for completion last month – after a nine-month closure – of the modernized Van Buren St. Bridge. It connects the two jurisdictions near Isaac Crossman Park and Benjamin Banneker Park.

Riding my bike on the nearby W&OD trail, I noticed the handsome “2018” numbers chiseled in the bridge’s concrete siding—future generations will have no doubt when it was built.

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