A recent Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News featured an article by business columnist Cheryl Hall on “Economic Inclusiveness.” It contains brief comments by corporate, non-profit, and entrepreneur leaders that addressed whether 2020 will “go down in history as the year Dallas businesses started a new chapter in economic inclusiveness” or whether it will “prove to be just a blip in social consciousness brought on by the horrifying death of George Floyd.” The leaders’ comments are buoyant, typical of Dallas’s business community. They cite meaningful dialog, black people investing in themselves, the diverse group in local key decision-making positions, unprecedented energy and collaboration, the increasingly diverse population that makes up the local business talent and customer pools, and white people who have “gone from passive acknowledgment to vocal anti-racism.”
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A voice of skepticism belonged to Ron Kirk, the Black former mayor of Dallas and former United States Trade Representative under President Obama. He currently is senior counsel in a prominent law firm and a board member of the Dallas Citizens Council. Kirk goes right to the underlying problems:
- Housing for minority families.
- Access to capital for young Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs.
- Doing business with minority-owned firms: “If we’re good enough to be on the chamber or the symphony board, why am I not good enough to be the first call that you make when it’s time to do business?”
- Developing local talent: “Why do we struggle to see the value of having everyone in the city contributing to our economic growth?”
- Income inequality: “I still don’t understand why people think that it’s healthy to have a city where all of the wealth and all of the tax base is concentrated in less than a third of the city.”
Others that Hall surveyed would include the “targeted mistreatment of young black men” and “the disparity with online education” to this list. Kirk concludes, “This can be more than a moment if we are serious about addressing the underlying issues . . . This has to stop being seen as a sum-zero game.”
Another journalist, The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, explains why Cheryl Hall’s choice between a new chapter and a blip is so tough: “the lived experiences of Black Americans and White Americans lead to such different perspectives.” Seib describes these differences more succinctly than I ever could.
Today, many white people don’t see how there can be systemic racism when the nation put its most sweeping civil rights laws into effect more than half a century ago when affirmative action policies have been implemented to address past inequities, when a Black man has been elected president—and, above all, when most white people genuinely believe they aren’t racists themselves. America, they tend to believe, has made more genuine progress fighting racism than any nation on earth.
To many Black people, that also is all true, but not the whole story. They see the ways that the country’s racist past has built into its social and economic systems deep underlying inequities that still exist, long after the attitudes that created them in the first place may have changed. These effects are at once both subtle and more far-reaching. (July 28, 2020)
In the next few Reflections, I’ll explore things I’ve learned about talent development in a quarter-century doing that work and how they apply to the current situation.