Neil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications
Let me be clear: There isn’t any time when black face is acceptable – now, last year, five years ago, in grad school, high school or grade school. No, absolutely not. Virginia Gov. Roger Northam needs to join now former Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel and former NBC talk show host Megyn Kelley and resign.
The broader issue is making sure politicians, business executives, educators, athletes or parents realize that they have to be aware that their actions now and in the past are offensive, insensitive and hurtful. There are just too many incidents nowadays where folks are trying to diminish racially charged attitudes as youthful indiscretions or the familiar, “Oh, I didn’t really mean to say that.”
Let me try to frame this discussion in business terms. If you’re a chief marketing officer who is charged with launching a new product or service, you spend a great deal of time making sure the packaging, pricing, and messaging is finely tuned to appeal to your target market. You take great pride in making sure that you have the right team members to direct and manage every part of the process. You have a wide array of analytics now that can track sales – right down to the age, income and zip code. You do all you can to preserve the brand of your product. When you see sales drop or read negative reviews, you aggressively try to figure out what’s going wrong – and you do all you can to adjust the messaging and targeting to get sale back on track.
The same sort of passion to detail required to make sure a company creates a workplace environment or a community at large that is free of racial prejudice and insensitivity. The chairman of the board, all the C-suite executives, and all its employees at all levels need to adhere to ideals that uphold respect, fairness and equity. There’s no room for past indiscretions or misspoken words that draw off the ugliest periods of this country’s history. There’s no place in a corporation – no less for any publicly elected or appointed official – to believe that a heartfelt apology will erase away the pain inflicted to racially or ethnically diverse co-workers – or citizens. There’s just no room for intolerance because the nation’s multicultural demographics are here to stay. In 2012, the U.S. Censusreported in 2011 “most children younger than 1 were minorities.” What this means is that black face, minstrel shows, calling people the n-word or mocking racial or ethnic accents are just not suitable because more than likely the people you work with or live in your community are likely to be diverse.
So, it’s time to do a gut check. If you don’t understand what’s wrong with Gov. Northam’s or Mike Ertel’s or Megyn Kelly’s actions, then take a moment – perhaps several moments. Whatever you have done that was racially insensitive in the past is not tolerable now or in your past. Engage your co-workers or your community in an open and honest conversation that will allow you to learn and embrace cultural differences as the way we live today. The future of this nation – and business – is going to require all of us to acknowledge that racial epithets and actions have no place in our workplace or community – at any time.
Neil Foote is a veteran journalist and media executive. He draws from his experience at the Miami Herald, Washington Post, Belo Corporation and Tom Joyner’s Reach Media. He also teaches digital and social media for journalists, media management and business journalism at the University of North Texas’ Frank W. & Sue Mayborn School of Journalism and runs Foote Communications, a media consulting firm. The native of Brooklyn, NY also is president of the board for the National Black Public Relations Society and founder of PoliticsInColor.com.