Normally at this time of the year we like to look back and recap some of the highlights of our activities from the preceding twelve months. This year, though, something so bizarre happened recently - something that captures the magnitude of inequity in the marketplace - we couldn't let the opportunity pass to reflect on this very specific, very disheartening episode.
You may have heard the name Rosalind Brewer before. In the odd event you haven't, Ms. Brewer was a featured speaker during our previous School of Business and Chamber Management and spoke about how she ascended into the high ranking position as the CEO of Walmart's Sam's Club division. Brewer is the first Black American and the first female to lead Sam's. It goes without saying that she is "off-the-chart" smart, personable, and very, very good at her job...or she wouldn't be there.
During a recent CNN interview, Ms. Brewer offered insight into the workplace culture she is responsible for shaping, noting the importance of racial and gender diversity in the ranks of her executive team. From the firestorm of venom raining down on her, you'd think she said something as outlandish as a GOP presidential contender!
For stating clearly that it is important that her workplace look like the people Sam's sells its products to, Ms. Brewer has been called racist, dumb, incompetent and a whole lot of other downright nasty things. On top of that, some misguided folk have called for a boycott of Sam's Club, "...because it discriminates against white people..."
Besides being absolutely absurd, the hateful comments heaped on Ms. Brewer paint a graphic picture of how far we have to go to create equality of opportunity in the marketplace. (Excuse me while I compare Ms. Brewer's situation to the way President Obama has been treated the entire time he's held office!)
But Ms. Brewer - after noting how she has shaped her executive leadership team - went on to illustrate how she uses her position to encourage Sam's Club suppliers to adopt diversity strategies. And that's when the "twitterverse" went berserk!
In an American economy with only a handful of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, where Black folks (ALL forty-plus million of us) have less money than the wealthiest 100 white Americans, where Black businesses have virtually NO CHANCE of earning federal, state or municipal contracts and even less opportunity in the private sector, how twisted do you have to be to believe that Rosalind Brewer is proof that white folks are in jeopardy?
Please don't get me wrong: Rosalind Brewer doesn't need me to defend or explain her position. The thing that has no defense and needs explaining is the hard-edged, racist sentiment that evidently still exists in America.
While Brewer's role as CEO of a giant company shows that we have come a long way, the fact that Black folk remain the most likely to go to jail, the most likely to die a violent death (all too often at the hands of law enforcement), the most likely to go without needed social services and healthcare, the mostly likely to be fired rather than promoted, and the most likely to have their opinions dismissed as "playing the race card" or -- worse, "reverse discrimination" -- is proof of how far we have left to go.
We will continue to point the way to an America that is better when Black businesses grow and thrive; when those businesses are the leaders in reducing Black unemployment; when those businesses are supplying civic leadership and improving the quality of life in communities across the country, and we'll continue to point out that efforts to improve diversity too often end up being diversions from what really matters.
The USBC School of Chamber and Business Management, the Black Male Entrepreneurship Institute, our Solutions Series and the work being done by nearly 130 Black chambers of commerce across the country keeps us focused and making a difference...just like Rosalind Brewer.
In the Spirit of Success
Ron Busby, Sr.
U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.