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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's Not Just in Politics

When running for office Tennessee Democrat Stephen I. Cohen pledged that he would join the Congressional Black Caucus if elected. Not an overly dramatic pledge--most politicians pledge something like single handedly bringing about world peace--but a pledge that should be fairly easy to keep. Except for one small problem--Representative Cohen is white.

He represents a district that is largely African American and thought his constituents concerns would be similar to his collegeagues' concerns in the Black Caucus. They did not want him to join.
Cohen said he became convinced that joining the caucus would be "a social faux pas" after seeing news reports that former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-Mo., a co-founder of the caucus, had circulated a memo telling members it was "critical" that the group remain "exclusively African-American."

Other members, including the new chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and Clay's son, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., agreed.

"Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. ... It's time to move on," the younger Clay said. "It's an unwritten rule. It's understood. It's clear."

Well, that's politics right? You and I aren't running for office. (Oh, wait, I am running for office.)

The same type of exclusionary policies are likely happening at your office. Are you a male that wants to join the "Women's Leadership Seminar"? Good luck. Several companies I have worked for have programs just for minorities and females. White males need not apply.

This is something I don't understand. Do white males by virtue of the combination of skin color and Y chromosomes automatically know how to navigate the corporate world? Do people without that blessed combination not know how to do it and need guidance?

My experience has been that very few people have an innate knowledge of how to advance in corporate America. Most people learn by trial and error and seeking out a mentor. Groups that help people succeed are great. But the end goal should be sucessful people, not specialized help for a specific group.


FHL said...

Maybe it's their [the Black Caucus] way of labelling the drinking fountains or something. All the "old boys" clubs resist allowing women to the group - it's probably the same sort of thing. If we let him in, how can we stop others from infiltrating?.

I'd think they'd want to be supportive of him, considering his constituency. On the other hand, you wonder why an African-American didn't get voted in to the office.

Regarding your Corporate America point: imagine the frenzy that would erupt if a corporation formed a "White Men's Department." (I got your WMD right here! haha!)

*pauses to think*

I wonder what effect, if any, the rise of online gaming * will have on racial bias? When you're playing online, you don't have a racial prejudice (unless we're talking Orcs vs. Humans) because you don't know what the other players look like.

* and other forms of communication that are purely online, even blogging!

Anonymous said...

And there's the rub. No one seems concerned about the blatant discrimination in the statement. An unwritten rule? Seems to me there was much consternation about unwritten membership rules in the not to distant past. Of course, that view only works if you haven't gotten on board of the concept that a protected group cannot discriminate. Fifteen years ago when the first EEO manager told me this it gave me a headache that lasts to this day. I'm not good with intellectual discontinuity.

I read in other reports that several members of the Black Caucus have pledged to work against Rep Cohen in the next election. Apparently, the voters of his district were politically incorrect in voting for a white male.