A few weeks ago, I shared thoughts and reflections in a Tampa Bay Times Op-ed on being a Black Man in America. I have received hundreds if not thousands of unsolicited responses, with many apologizing and many asking if I am ok. Well, I am not ok.
Allow me to explain.
I appreciate those reaching out to ask what they can do; I am not ok with people reaching out just to say I am sorry. I know many feel the need to say something, but I recommend the first step to be looking in the mirror and pledging to do better in your own sphere of influence.
I am not ok with hollow statements espousing shock regarding what’s going on today and being satisfied with hollow pledges to do better.
I am not ok, because many of you are uncomfortable right now. And some of you don’t know why.
I am not ok when I look at businesses in our community and see very few African Americans in leadership positions, if any.
I am not ok with the number of African American men and women who have reached out to me privately because they are afraid to speak up at work.
I am not ok with the number of my white colleagues that have shared with me that they have a black manager or above in their business and they wish they could find more qualified ones.
I am not ok with many of our governing boards and executive suites.
I am not ok with those who refuse to mentor and help someone navigate through their career.
I am not ok with the small percentage of business being done by African American businesses in many of our current vendor supply chains.
I am not ok, and I will no longer be ok with being damned with faint praise.
I like data, but I am not ok with the following statistics:
- • Black Americans account for about 13% of the U.S. population but 24% of the coronavirus deaths as of June 2, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
- • Despite accounting for only 6% of the general population, African American males represent nearly 50% of the prison population.
- • Only four U.S. Fortune 500 company CEOs are black – less than 1%.
- • African Americans hold 3.2% of senior leadership positions at large companies according to the Center for Talent Innovation.
- • A recent analysis of nearly 7 million 30-year mortgages by University of California at Berkeley researchers found that Black and Latino applicants were charged higher interest — an average of nearly 0.08% — and heavier refinance fees when compared with white borrowers.
- • Of households that are at or below the poverty line, 13% of White households lack access to a car, compared to 31% of African American households.
I am not ok that many won’t acknowledge that systemic racism exists and that we must rid it from our society.
I am not ok if you want to have another study, another program or another discussion designed to bring the community together.
I am not ok because people won’t understand the implications of their actions, and inactions.
I am not ok because many won’t try to understand the historical context of what got us to this point in our history:
- • Amistad
- • Anti-Literacy Laws
- • Three-Fifths Compromise
- • The Compromise of 1877 (ending Reconstruction after only 14 years)
- • The 13th Amendment
- • Lynching
- • Tuskegee Experiment
- • Emmett Till
- • Harry and Harriette Moore
- • Redlining
- • Segregation in public places, education and housing
- • Poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation to stop blacks from voting
- • Zoning and deed restrictions
- • Block Busting
- • Voting Rights Act
- • Disparities (Health, Economic, Housing, Education)
- • Explicit and Implicit Bias
- • Racial Inequalities
I am especially not ok because many may not make the time to understand any of these historical events and put them in context of today’s outrage.
For clarity, my health is ok. My spiritual being is ok. My family is ok. My conscience is ok. My business is ok. My soul is not ok.
So, what can we each do?
- • Treat all people with dignity and respect and not as threatening or inferior – the way you expect to be treated
- • Take a stand to eliminate racial profiling and discriminatory practices
- • Hire and mentor someone that does not look like you, not because they are inferior, but because they are smart and talented with great potential
- • Be intentionally diverse in all aspects of your life
- • Read and seek to understand how we got to this moment – we have a long history of developing nuanced language and systems that continue to widen the gap between races
- • Think deeply and honestly about your beliefs, feelings and actions involving people of other races
- • Listen intently to others
- • Get comfortable being uncomfortable and having tough discussions
Study the issues for yourself and resist the urge to simply ask your black acquaintances to tell you what to do – do the work and you will see true change.
I won’t be ok until we treat each other with dignity and respect and we work for equity.
I am just not ok. Are you?
Brian Butler is a retired Army Officer and CEO of Vistra Communications. Since moving to Tampa Bay in 2006, Brian has been active in the community and works to help make Tampa Bay a great place to live work and play for all.