Former Taco Bell employee Denzel Skinner shared a video on Facebook in which he was fired by his manager for wearing a mask that supported the Black Lives Matter movement. In the video, the manager, whose name wasn’t immediately known, said Skinner “can’t bring politics into the building.” Skinner, who worked at a Taco Bell in Youngstown, Ohio, maintained that BLM isn’t about politics — it’s what he stands for.
In a statement to Heavy on June 18, Taco Bell said they support the Black Lives Matter movement and had apologized to Skinner. They clarified that their policy does not prohibit wearing BLM masks:
We believe Black Lives Matter. We were disappointed to learn about the incident that took place in Youngstown, OH. We take this very seriously; we have been working closely with our franchisee that operates this location to address the issue. Our Chief People Officer and Yum!’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer spoke with Denzel last week to apologize and discuss the situation. Our goal is to ensure our policies are inclusive and keep our team members and customers safe. While our policies at restaurants do not prohibit Team Members from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, we are working to clarify our mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.
The call to boycott Taco Bell over Skinner’s firing comes during a turbulent time in the U.S., where activists have taken to the streets nationwide to protest police brutality. This comes during the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 117,000 Americans and infected more than 2.1 million. The Black Lives Matter movement, which started in 2013, regained momentum after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
Skinner Repeatedly Refused to Take Off His Mask
The video shows Skinner, 29, having a conversation with his manager after he was asked to leave. He had worked at Taco Bell for eight years, Skinner told WFMJ. “I’m getting fired ￼from my job because i have a black lives matter mask on #TacoBell 3551 Belmont ave pls share,” Skinner wrote on June 8.
“You just fired me because I have a Black Lives Matter mask on. You just told me I have to go home because I have a Black Lives Matter [mask on],” Skinner says in the clip. The manager can be heard in the background saying, “You told me you weren’t going to take it off.”
“I’m not! ’Cause I’m standing up for what’s right. I’m not taking it off,” Skinner says back, noting he was told he could wear whatever mask he wanted.
The manager tells him the mask has to be “plain” and that Skinner can’t bring “politics” to work. “Bro, I’m not bringing politics in. This is what I’m standing for. Like, how is this considered politics?” he asks.
The manager responds with another question: “How is it not, Denzel?”
Ultimately, Skinner refused to take the mask off. “OK. Well, there’s nothing I can do for you. I’m just trying to do my job,” she says. Skinner says it is his job to stand up for what he believes.
The video then picks up at a different part of the conversation, in which the manager says, “You just don’t get it.”
“You don’t either,” Skinner tells her. “Because if you did this wouldn’t be a problem.” The manager says she personally doesn’t have a problem with it but it’s a “company thing.”
At the end of the clip, she asks, “[Would you be OK] with letting somebody wear something that said something about white people?” she asks. “I’m not against what you stand for either but I have to do what the company says to do.”
Skinner told WFMJ that Taco Bell employees received a memo on May 4 that stated they must wear masks. The letter didn’t say it could not have writing on it.
The statement Skinner shared with WFMJ read:
Masks are required not only by the states but by Taco Bell and KFC. They must be worn properly at all times. We have been receiving multiple guest complaints about employees wearing masks under their chins or not over their nose. Team, I know it’s hot and uncomfortable but unfortunately, this is what has to be done. Not wearing your mask correctly is grounds for termination. Businesses are under a microscope right now, and we must follow the rules… masks/gloves/food safety!!!
Taco Bell corporate told WFMJ “that they introduced masks in the restaurants in April for the safety of team members and guests” and have allowed employees to use their own but are now considering revising their policies.
Skinner Said He Refused to Remove His Mask Because He Wants the Black Lives Matter Movement to Be Heard
The former Taco Bell employee said getting justice was paramount. “If the governor and governments are requiring us to wear masks, we should be able to wear any type of mask that you want,” he told WFMJ.
“And not only that, I still want everyone to believe that we still need justice for what is happening in this world and people need to be held accountable for whatever mistakes that they make. Black lives are going to always matter,” Skinner continued. “Not just when some people want it to matter. It will always matter.”
In a statement to the local news outlet on June 11, Taco Bell said they were “inclusive” and committed to keeping their employees and customers safe. “We are working with our franchisee that operates this location to understand what happened,” they said. “We are committed to fighting racial injustice and are hosting open forums to give restaurant teams an opportunity to discuss racism in America.”
Taco Bell released a statement on Twitter on June 2 saying, “We don’t tolerate racism or violence against Black people. We’re committed to being part of long-term solutions. And we have more work to do.” The post linked to a longer statement from Taco Bell CEO Mark King that read in part:
I will not pretend to understand the weight of the years of injustice and inequality that our Black friends and colleagues have experienced. What we are seeing played out across the country is tragic and difficult, and I know we all long for change. As an iconic brand that lives and operates in communities around the world, we can facilitate some of that change, together.
Some Netizens Plan to Boycott Taco Bell
The full video is more than 30 minutes long, but it started to go viral on Twitter June 18 after it was shared by rapper Elijah Daniel, also known as Lil Phag. It was edited down to a 59-second clip.
“Taco Bell manager firing an employee for supporting BLM :/ #RIPTacoBell,” Daniel captioned the video. By afternoon it had been viewed 1.7 million times. The hashtag #RIPTacoBell became one of the top-trending topics on June 18 as people started to boycott the fast-food chain and share recipes so they could make their favorite Taco Bell items at home.