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Oct25
Off Topic: On Nooses, Watson, Racism & Why Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Today, I'm departing from my usual focus on healthcare to discuss an issue that’snoose.jpeg been weighing on my mind recently. 

Another week, another firestorm about another racist gesture.  It seems we’ve seen it all recently.  Nooses hung from trees, doors and other locations; James Watson’s ill-conceived remarks about Africans’ native intelligence. 

Now, this isn’t going to be another blog post about how terrible racism is and why Watson should be pilloried.  Let’s face it, based on my understanding of biology, humans developed with a strong distrust of anything and anyone that represents a change from their normal everyday existence.  In the wilds of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas this was a good survival strategy.  Because of this, it is human nature to distrust “The Other,” no matter our color or creed.  In fact, this tendency is so strong that some will marshal any number of facts and figures to buttress their beliefs about why they are superior to another person. 

Given this, racism will never go away.  It infuses our perceptions, and yes science – no matter how “objectively” people interpret the data.  (I’m saying this because some apologists for Watson have suggested that the numbers back his claims about the relative intelligence of Blacks versus Whites.  We must remember that science is far from an objective enterprise.)


 

As a communications professional, my first reaction to this flurry of reports was to wonder whether a robust marketing campaign could help.  Could communications get people to recognize that while we are not the same, we are all deserving of the same amount of respect, support and consideration?  But, as I started to write a post on this topic, I remembered an interesting essay written by John McWhorter about the recent noose hanging incidents.  He said:

“The next time somebody plants a noose, let's just ignore it.  Perhaps paying less attention to these acts will take away their racist power."

That got me thinking.  Is the best way to change minds to ignore these acts and words?  Or, should we continue as we have, piling on in condemnation and calling for resignations?  Will these actions cause people to think differently, or will they simply dismiss it as another example of political correctness gone amok?  

Frankly, I’m not sure if the hue and cry will change hearts and minds.  However, I do believe well-considered and “smart” communications could help.  My idea is borne out of my early experiences.  

I grew up going to a school system in a predominantly African American neighborhood.  We were not rich.  In fact, some of my neighbors were very, very poor and engaged in activities that were far from admirable.  In addition, I was subtly told (by people from all backgrounds), that those who looked like me were less intelligent, capable and strong than whites.  Over time, I began to internalize this message.

However, when I got to elementary school something changed.  My teachers educated me about the African Americans who helped build America.  It’s important to note that the people we learned about were not just entertainers.  They knew that the accomplishments of people like Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson were wonderful.  But, they also understood that we needed to see examples of people excelling in areas Blacks were not expected to, including policymaking, law and science.  I learned about Dr. Charles Drew, whose efforts to develop blood storage technology helped save countless lives.  I also came to enjoy the work of celebrated artists, James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston.  The list goes on.  Over time, I recognized that despite what the wider world (and some in my own community) believed, Blacks were just as capable of creating, innovating, inventing and excelling as Whites.

So, I have a simple suggestion for communicators of all colors and creeds.  People are quoting the “science,” IQ tests and SAT scores to suggest that Blacks and Whites are not of equal intelligence.  They also rely on anecdotal evidence, saying” “look around, you can’t help but notice that most Blacks don’t take advantage of the opportunities they have in this country.”  If we want to change these beliefs, we have to replace assumptions with the facts.  Show people why they are wrong by citing examples of the quiet, unheralded contributions Blacks are making in business, science, education, law and other areas.  Condemnation is good, but saying “this is wrong” and going back to business as usual two weeks later is criminal.

11 Comments/Trackbacks




Fard: Excellent post! Having grown up in the same neighborhood and having attended boarding schools Fall/Winter/Spring, from 5th through 12th grades -- and graduated valedictorian in all Caucasian classes in the 8th and 12th grades -- it was always interesting to navigate and process my experiences in both environments, and the differing expectations of me strictly based upon where I happened to be located at the time. In Harlem I was expected to fail. In Bucks County, Pa. at boarding school, I was expectedand supported to succeed. 75 miles made a huge difference. Communication(s) made all the difference...in BOTH environments. I learned to communicate and succeed in BOTH environments. That is something our elites like Dr. Watson could learn -- or rely on communications experts such as yourself -- to help provide. DNA and Genome-based products, goods, services will demand communications professionals' services to help consumers navigate, process and society ensure responsible communications and messaging is also part of the commercialization efforts underway.

Hi Fard,

You cite a few names of Blacks that have made unheralded contributions to our society. What I want to know is, where are they in the pharmaceutical industry? I know they are there! I've met a few at industry meetings like Digital Pharma and have written at least one story in my newsletter about the work of a Black pharma product manager.

Women pharmaceutical executives have the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association but where is the Black Pharma Businessperson Association?

Fard, I think it would be a great idea to seek out Black professionals in the pharmaceutical industry and begin telling their stories. Let's ask Marc Monseau for help -- he may be interested in getting J&J employee stories posted to his blog!

See my post today on Pharma Blogosphere.

That is a good idea.

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Good post Fard, however I think racism is on the decline.

Currently, we have a Hispanic and Black American running for President of the United States, and no one bats an eye about it. There hasn't been any serious mention of anyone being less qualified because of race in this campaign.

In Tennessee last year, Harold Ford, Jr., a Black American was a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate and carried Giles County, the birthplace of the Klu Klax Klan. While there will always be isolated pockets of ignorance as a whole, racism as a whole is diminishing and we are finally beginning to realize the American dream of equality for all. When we can have comedians like Carlos Mencia and Dave Chapelle cracking jokes that even the most die hard racist will laugh at, then we've already entered a new place in history where racism is becoming history.

JX

JX

Good post Fard, however I think racism is on the decline.

Currently, we have a Hispanic and Black American running for President of the United States, and no one bats an eye about it. There hasn't been any serious mention of anyone being less qualified because of race in this campaign.

In Tennessee last year, Harold Ford, Jr., a Black American was a major party nominee for the U.S. Senate and carried Giles County, the birthplace of the Klu Klax Klan. While there will always be isolated pockets of ignorance as a whole, racism as a whole is diminishing and we are finally beginning to realize the American dream of equality for all. When we can have comedians like Carlos Mencia and Dave Chapelle cracking jokes that even the most die hard racist will laugh at, then we've already entered a new place in history where racism is becoming history.

JX

JX

The evidence supporting the validity of IQ testing isn't anecdotal; it's statistical. For example, the statistics show males are spread unevenly across the bell curve. There are more males than females at the extreme high end, but there are also more males than females below average. Women are spread much more evenly across the bell curve. In other words, the average woman is smarter than the average man. This explains why more women than men are attending college; a larger percentage of women than men are capable of handling college-level work. Asian Americans outscore white and black Americans on IQ tests. This is reflected in their superior academic performance. They are overrepresented at elite universities throughout the nation and are a majority at California’s flagship universities. European Jews outscore all ethnic groups, not only in the United States but throughout the world. This explains their outsized contributions in arts, literature, science and medicine. IQ test shows that blacks are spread unevenly throughout the bell curve. Many score at the very highest level, but there is a bulge, mostly of black males, below average. This explains why black females, who on the average score higher and are doing better academically than black males.

We can pretend that differences in IQ don’t exist, but this isn’t going to make society even fairer. The mostly white Baby Boom is beginning to retire. Over the next two decades, a third of the U.S. workforce will vanish. This is going to open up tremendous opportunities for minority students now in junior high or high school. We will have to increase immigration to fill a lot of these vacancies, but we need to position as many minority students as possible to take advantage of the demographic shift. This means reversing high minority dropout rates. We also need to stop undervaluing work performed by people without college degrees.

Differences in IQ between U.S. racial and ethnic groups will gradually dissappear through intermarriage and natural selection. A recent study perdicts that Americans will be racially and ethnically indistinct by the beginning of the next millenium.

Blair, so the study you cite claims there will be an end to diversity via diversity? Gosh, where will we be without our vaunted diversity?
There will always be a diversity of IQs and achievement per the normal distribution curve, but that'll be okay as long as we're all the same color. LOL at the sanctimony.

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