By: Jasmine Adams
Diversity. Affirmative action. These types of words can make some people cringe, others applaud, and, even more, stop to think about the ramifications of promoting or implementing one or the other. From people like Sam’s Club President and CEO, Rosalind Brewer, promoting diversity and being scolded for doing so to the Supreme Court case that Abigail Fisher has brought to eliminate affirmative action, diversity and affirmative action have continued to be hot button, schism-creating topics within the country. However, as much as those words—and the discussions they foster—can cause divide, one thing is clear: both are implemented for change.
It is no secret that for hundreds of years minorities in America, black men and women in particular, have effectively been disadvantaged by many systemic and structural barriers: slavery, segregation, overt racism, school to prison pipeline, wealth disparities, etc. The Peak’s “The Myth of Meritocracy” video illustrates the effect of these barriers best. Essentially, history in this video was depicted as a race with 4 participants—a white man, a white woman, a black man, and a black woman. Each are at the start line and given the countdown to start the race. When given the green light to begin the race, the white racers were permitted to begin; however, the black racers were halted by a red light, representing years of slavery.
In the video, the white male was able to run for generations and acquire wealth while the black runners continued to be held back by the stop light. When finally given the green light to go, the black racers are continuously hit with one road block after another, each representing historical structural barriers black people have (and continue to) faced. Essentially, while the black racers are trying to gain what the white racers have already obtained, the black racers are simply unable to do so due to not only the late start but also the barriers thrown up along the way. In the end, the white male racer does not even have to use his legs to run anymore because he has built the structure to glide along the race track in lieu of running. So, as determined as the black racer may be and as hard as the black racer may run, it is difficult to catch up to the wealth, success, and ease of opportunity that the white racer has created.
Essentially, structural changes must occur in order to give black people the structural opportunity to which white men are privy. Merit alone is not enough to enable minorities as a whole to reach the strides that white people have gained. And, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with the strides that white people have made. The change is not meant to take away from white people, but rather to make room for minorities who have been hindered from making the same strides. And for some, like Brewer, championing diversity is only part of the solution to create the structural change necessary for equality.
Brewer stated the changes that need to occur best, albeit candidly. In fact, she has recently been under fire by critics for her public statements in a CNN interview. In her comments, Brewer noted that she promotes diversity within her company in more than one way and expects for Sam’s Club suppliers to do the same.
According to The Root, Brewer specifically stated that diversity “has to start with top leadership…My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority. I demand it within my team.”
Brewer further explained, “Just today we met with a supplier, and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian males. That was interesting. I decided not to talk about it directly with [the supplier’s] folks in the room because there were actually no females like, levels down. So I’m going to place a call to him.”
Amidst her comments and the subsequent criticism, Brewer is ultimately seeking change. She is promoting diversity in order to effect change in our society and for minorities who may not be given certain opportunities (for which they are qualified) simply because their skin color or gender or religion is different from the interviewer’s, the manager’s, or the CEO’s. Moreover, promoting diversity is not only meant for moral gratification, justice, and equality. For those who are more business-minded, it allows for a broader range of perspectives that can potentially effect a business’s bottom line. Different perspectives allow for products to be made and marketed for a growing minority population. Having a business run by all white men, when the majority of the population will consist of people of color in the near future, is likely not going to generate as large of profits as would be generated if there was a more diverse workforce at all levels of the business.
Initiatives that effect change to help black people after hundreds of years of being stopped from even trying to prosper have been deemed inappropriate, unfair, and racist in their own right. For example, affirmative action has taken such a negative connotation within society that it makes the very people it helps turn against it. However, affirmative action ultimately promotes change. Maybe people like Abigail Fisher (and even Justice Scalia) believe such change is unfairly working in the favor of the wrong people (minorities) to their disadvantage. However, the facts tell a completely different story. Affirmative action primarily helps white women.
However, for those who do not believe in affirmative action or actively promoting diversity, there are yet still other ways to effect change. One prominent and often overlooked or less publicized avenue is broadening networking and mentorship opportunities for minorities. Particularly, black men and women need to be mentored by other black men and women. Kimberly Reed, human resource consultant and managing partner of The Reed Development Group has stated, “For African Americans mentoring is like oxygen; mentorship helps one uncover the opportunities and possibilities that are beyond the stratosphere.”
Moreover, “Mentoring is coming from an authentic place of service and pouring into an individual the necessary tools [etiquette/protocol, networking, strategic alliances, wellness and career coaching] for winning in a male-dominated world and a near-to-invisible culture for women,” explained Carol Harvey, mentor advocate for Delta Sigma Theta sorority (Philadelphia chapter), and manager of admissions for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
While many preach mentorship and the need for it in the black community, there is a scarcity of black mentors, especially black women, the higher minorities climb within a business or organization. Thus, there needs to be a path or initiative that allows for black mentors to be placed in the proper position to be able to assist mentees with upward mobility. Yes, that means from the White House as well.
However, does that mean affirmative action and diversity initiatives ought to be the interim means by which minorities get through the door until no longer needed? Perhaps. Moreover, while mentorship for minorities, and black women in particular, is highly needed, is anyone going to invest the time, money, effort and publicity such mentorship program need? Why should, for instance, mentorship for black women and girls be on the back burner to other programs. Yes, black women are taking initiative to help themselves; however, there are still issues that need to be addressed. For example, why is the initiative for My Brothers Keeper receiving more publicity and funding than the women’s coalition that the White House recently announced? By no means should we pit programs for black men and women against one another. However, these types of discrepancies must be pointed out.
It’s these types of questions that we need to address. If people have a problem with diversity initiatives or affirmative action, come up with a better plan. Personally, I think mentorship needs to be a focus for black people, especially black women, moving forward. Yes, affirmative action and diversity are avenues by which to tear down the structural barriers that can stand in the way of equality. However, other ideas need to be explored and expanded upon, like the relationship that mentorship can foster.