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By Vernon A. Williams
People are tired of talking about racism. I get it. It is unpleasant. Views and perspectives are not easily dissuaded. Relationships can be put at risk. And such dialogue probably attributes to unhealthy stress. None of that can be denied.
The administrator recently declared plans to dramatically appeal for Black voters in 2020. To say that the battle will be uphill is a cataclysmic understatement. No leader of the free world in memory has catered so openly and unashamedly to white supremacists while demonstrating such acidic contempt for people of color.
His mere presence has accelerated the dire need to focus on bigotry – like it or not.
Quiet as it’s kept, Black people are as weary of the conversation as many whites. The subject is not one of delight for liberals, conservatives or those who claim to be independent thinkers. The antipathy for the topic crosses every socio-economic group.
For one thing, racism is complicated. The way people approach the issue is largely determined by how they define it. That’s problematic from the start. What if we were left to our own devices to interpret instructions intrinsic to the traffic light as we approach a busy intersection. What if, in your way of thinking, green meant “stop” and red says “go.”
There would be mass confusion and one traffic catastrophe after another. On a somewhat lesser but similar scale, Americans consider it their God-given right not only to express themselves as they see fit but to adhere to their often myopic vision, forming their position with rigid expectations for others to strictly comply. It is a toxic social recipe.
The matter is further complicated by the reality that some self-loathing African American sycophants, still bound by the psychological shackles of enslavement, see themselves and others who look like them as innately inferior and unworthy of justice. Some are overt and easily identified while others subtly toil against their own interest.
Conversely, there are white Americans in every corner of the United States who have either publicly or privately said or done whatever they had to, to contribute to comprehensive, compassionate and sustainable progress for Black Americans. Many have forged alliances at significant risk to their own economic or social viability.
In the past few weeks, veteran freedom fighters like legislators John Conyers and Elijah Cummins were summoned to the celestial jury for social justice and human dignity. Even more recently, Black America laments the transition of another icon – Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson.
Tyson was a champion for the people who was anything but a household name. On social media, I asked how many people never heard of him prior to my posting his demise. Three out of four respondents – a group of educated, well-read, and socially conscious individuals – confessed that his was a name with which they were totally unfamiliar.
How could it be that so many more African Americans are more aware of Mike Tyson than Bernard Tyson – the head of one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans serving 12.3 million people in eight states; listed among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2017, and named one of the country’s top 50 leaders in healthcare in 2018?
How could Black America not be intimately acquainted with a man whose company’s worldwide force swelled from 174,000 to 218,000 during his tenure with annual revenue increasing from $53 billion to a staggering $83 billion?
He sat on the board of the American Heart Association and Salesforce and was a member of the prestigious Business Council – the nation’s top 200 CEOs.
This man was a real-life Black superhero and so many never knew his name. Perhaps many more would have been much more familiar with the topic if racism and discrimination was placed more prominently in the arena of public dialogue in the U.S.
Beyond his obvious acumen for health and business, Tyson was a tireless advocate for social change. He fought an endless battle for these people who never knew his name. CNN described Tyson as “a leading voice on issues of race” in America. The problem was, that network – and others with massive audiences – too seldom places cameras and microphones in front of that voice. And we rely on them for too much of our information.
After the 2014 shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Tyson published an essay titled, “It’s Time to Revolutionize Race Relations” – detailing the different ways he was treated in the C-suites as opposed to what he confronted in everyday life.
“You would think my experience as a top executive would be different from a Black man who is working in a retail or food service job to support his family. Yet, he and I both understand the commonality of the Black male experience that remains consistent no matter what economic status or job title you achieve.”
The day before his death, Tyson spoke at the Afrotech conference on equity in healthcare and technology. Earlier that week, Tyson spoke on a panel of the AT&T Business Summit where he discussed the need for companies to be both diverse and inclusive in their workforce. During that session, Tyson told the AT&T audience:
“What I’m after is bringing the most diverse populations inside of my organization and tapping into the brilliant minds that come from a universe of experiences that are different depending on how you grew up, your community, your neighborhood, how you had to solve problems. When I come to the corporate table, I don’t have to fit in. I get to be who I am and create a different organism inside of that group dynamic.”
By failing to provide greater access to this powerful voice, American media cheated the nation of a force for change. But then, why would they? From the outset of this essay it was established that Americans hates the discussion of racism.
If only this nation hated the PRACTICE of racism with similar fervor.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].