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Our Lives and Labor Stolen from Us: Reflections of a Black Amazon Worker

“A journal entry on my experience as a Black Amazon worker. I dedicate this entry to Tyre Nichols and to all victims of police and military violence here and abroad; our enemy is the same.”

Carmin Maffea

February 1, 2023
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Amazon workers protesting the company's union busting.
Image: Rederic J. Brown/Getty Images

The other day, I was reading Marcel Proust. I’ve always enjoyed how vivid he makes ordinary life and basic memory appear because it always reminds me that the life I live is worth something. It runs contrary to how I’m treated in my day to day life with low pay and the everyday dangers of being Black and Queer. 

In one of the passages, Proust expressed that the nature of habit works as a kind of anesthesia that numbs us to things we dislike and fear by directing our focus away from those things and towards the actions of our daily routines and schedules. I read this around the same time that news of Tyre Nichols’ murder by police came out. When I heard the news I realized that habit numbed me too — that I am so accustomed to the strain of exploitation and the threat of death at police hands that I had forgotten how deep the pain of it all ran. Being reminded of these threats after another case of a brother being lynched by the state has left me anxious for myself and my coworkers who are, for a great majority, Black. 

Since 2016, I’ve seen many people characterize the working class as the white, racist base that voted for Trump, and it’s infuriating. Infuriating, because it’s an erasure of me, my coworkers, everything we do that keeps businesses and people’s lives going, and everything we go through as Black people. 

Amazon has become the logistics monster it is today by aggressively expanding its warehouses in the U.S. and across the world, and aggressively increasing the workload on its employees while paying them lower wages that become worth less and less as inflation increases. 31 percent of Amazon’s lowest paid workers are black while 26 percent are Latino, and nearly half are women. That’s a vast over-representation of Black and Latinx folks. The positions we occupy such as delivery and warehouse work are central components of productions that not only make Amazon billions of dollars in profits but also sustain the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, as we do the actual deliveries, a world of vexing and even dangerous challenges come along with them. People have been beaten up or robbed at gunpoint for their packages. Coworkers in their early 20s have begged for easy routes because their accumulated back pain from work had gotten too severe. If your Amazon vest isn’t fully visible, you run the risk of people or police believing you’re trespassing or stealing packages and getting beat up or shot over it. There have even been instances where even with my uniform and packages in hand people still slammed doors in my face out of suspicion of me trying to trespass, just cause they saw the Blackness of my skin and the texture of my locs. 

Some challenges are dilemmas. Where you have to choose between having trouble eating and having trouble with the law. 

Just this past weekend a coworker was contemplating if he should sell drugs again because we weren’t making enough money with $16.50 an hour 25 hours a week. Saying “I’d rather put work in on the street knowing I’m making enough.” Manipulated by conditions to risk spending years in a prison cell because a company with trillions in revenue doesn’t pay him enough to eat properly. Besides, when you’re Black,you can get arrested and shot even if you aren’t breaking the law. You can be sleeping in your bed like Breonna Taylor, or on your way home like Tyre Nichols. 

Yet despite how much we contribute to the world and how much we have taken from us, for some reason we aren’t recognized as workers who keep society running, and our experience as Black people is stolen from us just as our labor is.

However, we ARE Black workers and we know more than anyone just how worthless this system treats us. Even if the knowledge is in the back of our minds shrouded through the anesthesia of our habit of trying to survive the day so we can go home to do game design, story writing, to see our kids, or to play God of War upon leaving work. 

We, as Black workers, are in a real position to fight back against all that threatens us. Amazon workers who contribute so much to society could shut it down by not processing packages in warehouses and not delivering them whenever the police, who would do us the same, kill a Black person like us.

I believe we should. As vengeance towards the bosses who kill us slowly, the coward cops who think themselves strong, and as a gesture of love and reverence to Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Keenan Anderson, Breonna Taylor and all the brothers, sisters, and siblings we lost to racism. 

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Carmin Maffea

Carmin is a revolutionary socialist from New York.

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