Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Is The Corporate Ladder Slipping For Blacks? Part 2

August 7, 2007 by  
Filed under Money/Business, News

(Akiit.com) Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles about the effects of integration in America and whether or not the decisions made during the stormy years of 1954-1968 civil rights movement has in fact, improved black Americans’ status in the country.

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others’, and still justly believe you have been completely fair. . . We seek not just freedom but opportunity.” — President Lyndon B. Johnson, June 4, 1965, during a speech to the graduating class at Howard university, Washington, D.C.

Chester Thompson sits in his office as president of the Black Economic Union in the historic Vine District, fully aware that while life for black America has improved greatly since integration, it still has its moments of frustration when it comes to being fully integrated into corporate America.

Not that Thompson is one to gripe, but even he knows among many others that when laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibited Americans from discriminating against others in voting, education, and the use of public facilities, or the Executive Order 10925 — issued by President John F. Kennedy that not everyone would receive the news with gladness.

Black America has reached higher proportions when it comes to melting into the American pot of inclusiveness in corporate America. More blacks found their way into white-only offices starting with the Civil Rights movement, when blacks screamed successfully at times, for opportunities in the business world. With the help of legislation that would allow diversity to come to America’s business world, African Americans, already taking full advantage of educational opportunities, became more active in melting into America’s corporate world.

Affirmative action was the “hammer” that was suppose to break down white America’s stronghold on businesses. Affirmative action along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was suppose to help black America rise to the top of the “white man’s corporate ladder” and stay in position to make a difference.

Today, some black Americans, according to Thompson, are realizing that although integration has helped African Americans attain jobs, improve their economic status as citizens, and even prove that blacks can actually make a difference at the top of corporate America, there is a growing sentiment and proven findings that integration has created a “mixed” review for blacks in business and in competing in the white man’s corporate world.

In some minds, integration has even been considered the “culprit” to the downfall of thousands of black businesses struggling to stay afloat as black America has found its way to do business whether that means shopping, buying groceries, or banking and finance opportunities in predominantly white suburbs. And for many blacks, it also means working in predominantly white offices and companies who once denied them job opportunities.

Integration, as good as it was intended, allowed blacks to acquire jobs in white-only companies and institutions. Integration allowed blacks, who were once denied the chance to apply for jobs and earn promotions in predominantly white-owned companies, the freedom to pursue jobs of their choosing.

But, integration also:

    •Created a misconception among some in black America that African American businesses, although vital in the post-integration era, aren’t as important to “our” survival today.

    •Fostered the notion that once in the door, always in the door. Black America became disillusioned to the fact that even though laws were on the book, “the man” was completely willing to allow one to raise the ladder of leadership. That alone, has left some in black America bitter about this “American dream” of fair and equal opportunity.

    •African Americans didn’t take into consideration that if there was going to be diversity in the workforce and business world, it also meant other groups (a.k.a. Hispanic, Asian-Americans, national immigrants, white women) were also allowed to participate in the game. Integration was not just going to be a “black thing” but it was intended for all groups. As a result, black Americans ignored that they were just a part of the equation.

    •Frustrated many white Americans who felt that the law surrounding affirmative action and equal employment was going to push them out of positions of leadership in turn, for a person of color or gender that wasn’t as qualified for jobs or positions of leadership.

Integration was necessary, says individuals like Thompson. But black America must recognize the fight for inclusion in corporate America, or in small businesses and even in the financial market, isn’t done. In fact, it has restricted itself more these days and Thompson like others reminds black Americans that while the doors opened for African Americans in employment and running businesses, they can and have begun to shut more frequently too.

“Some how, we’re going to have to face the reality and not get mad about it,” said Thompson. “If not, we’re going to be in trouble.”

“Before integration, we looked out for ourselves. I don’t see that happening now,” Thompson stated. “We need to raise our head and tell everyone what the issue is.”

A once vibrant 18th and 12th street in Kansas City, that was lined with black businesses from funeral homes, banks, restaurants, night clubs, cleaners,dentist offices among other businesses including THE CALL newspaper during segregation, has now dwindled down to just a few businesses running in the historic 18th and Vine district, and the Gates Plaza complex on 12th street. It’s a sight and frustration for most black Kansas Citians over 50 years of age who remember the heydays of flourishing black businesses and large influx of black professionals living in black communities.

Black America must realize integration was good for some seeking better employment and economic status, but it is still a revolving door that could someday stop its turning and send black America back outside empty-handed.

With changes surfacing around affirmative action as it relates to secondary and higher education as seen in the University of Michigan Law school case and the recent Supreme Court case involving two school districts in Washington and Kentucky, the changes will more likely trickle down to corporate America as well, which could lead to more blacks slipping down the ladder and few allowed in the doors and offices of white corporate America.

In Tamar Jacoby’s book, “Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, she stated, “Young black professionals are making their way into the system and up the ladders of mainstream success, but a large number of them cling to their mistrust even as they enjoy the fruits of the “white world”. . .

While black America has reached the top of such national and world corporations as Time Warner, Sprint, among others with its CEOs, still the problem remains a race-charged issue.

The problem many say is simple. Even Roy L. Brooks stated it well in his book, Integration or Separation: A Strategy for Racial Equality, as he quoted black historian John Hope Franklin:

“Racial integration has failed because it has barely been tried. Whites have not been willing to share power with African Americans, as they must if integration is to work. I doubt whites were ever willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure integration’s success. The chances for success are more remote today than they were 30 years ago.”

When integration entered, it also effected how blacks did business. That meant black businesses started seeing themselves on the short end of what was supposed to be a good thing, integration. Unfortunately, African American businesses nationwide began experiencing sharp drop offs as blacks took their money and their business to predominantly white companies, shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. What that left were black businesses struggling to remain steady, unfortunately many of which went under. But there are those that have remained functioning, albeit need for more resources and funding.

Thompson along with Denise E. Gilmore, president and CEO of the 18th and Vine Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation, said changing people’s thoughts about black-owned businesses can help alleviate some of the problems today. The same for African Americans nationwide who still believe that integration, affirmative action and more opened doors, will in fact, provide more employment opportunities for the black population which now must compete with the ever growing Hispanic population among other immigrants that have come to the United States.

“Our dollars are certainly leaving our community,” said Thompson. “I’m not saying it from a prejudicial point of view but those dollars stayed in our businesses and in our communities and we lost some with integration.”

As Thompson sees it, black businesses are forced to have to overcome suspicion by others concerning their product and even by those lenders who question whether black-owned companies can actually afford to pay back the loans rendered to them.

“It’s something that I worry about a lot and other people worry about too,” said Thompson. “We’ve been forced somewhat into a survival role because we can’t get into the mainstream of competing.”

Ms. Gilmore says with the increase in the number of minority and ethnic groups that have come to America, black businesses are now forced to also compete with other minority groups for clientele and dollars. And that alone, integration or not, has effected whether black businesses continue to find success.

“This is a bigger challenge for African American businesses because they have to compete with everybody else in the marketplace,” Ms. Gilmore said. “And, even though they may not be competing fairly and equally with capital and everything else, but they have to compete on the same level as everybody else.”

Ms. Gilmore says black businesses today must recognize that it has to get clientele from all avenues, not just black people, and avoid the tag of being strictly a black business just for African Americans.

“A challenge for black businesses is not only how do I get black people but how do I get the larger community to look at our business as a business and not necessarily as a black business for black people. That’s where black businesses are at a disadvantage.”

According to Anita Russell, president of the Kansas City, Mo., branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: “Black businesses have been effected the most because we don’t have the businesses like we use to. I don’t want to necessarily blame it on integration, though. We as a people don’t support (black) businesses like we should. Our businesses, although smaller, may not be as competitive as the majority, so some of our people tend to go where they can get more for their money. But, I think we should be willing to support each other so that then, our black businesses would be able to be more competitive.”

According to Mrs. Russell, black America thinks when it does business with a majority white business compared to a black business, it is getting a “better deal” with the white business or a “more quality product”. And that’s sad, she said.

“We really do need to do a lot to change our mindset about ourselves,” Mrs. Russell said.

With more blacks pursuing their own business through programs that enable entrepreneurial efforts, she says she hopes African Americans can realize that black businesses, although smaller in numbers than what it once was, are still vital to keeping the dollar within black people’s hands.

“We allow other groups to come into our community, open up business and we support them, but we don’t provide that very same support to our own (black) businesses,” Mrs. Russell said.

Thompson agreed. “Unfortunately, it’s all about self-esteem.”

Integration, as good as it has been at times, still has black America slipping down corporate ladders and barred from board rooms, CEO and president’s offices like never before. And the reason is simple — white America hates giving up power to anyone, let alone, a black man or woman.

Young African Americans, coupled with their degrees, diverse relationships and their post-civil rights views, still must recognize, white America isn’t ready to surrender any power, regardless of what some young blacks think should happen. The struggle hasn’t gone anywhere.

As George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publisher Association News Service and BlackPressUSA.com once stated in a November 2006 column entitled, “Is Affirmative Action Dead?”, . . “This war on affirmative action is not over. But we shouldn’t continue to show up for the battle unarmed.’”

And neither should African Americans think that integration will provide them the ladder to the top or protect them from losing their businesses. America is as it is: a nation whose policies and laws are made for white people and everyone else must fight to get in the door.

For black America, that could very well mean a shackled door or missing ladder.

As Brooks stated in Integration or Separation: “Whites are not going to voluntarily relinquish the advantages, whether fairly acquired or not, they hold over African Americans. . . One might ask why, given that whites are so opposed to sharing power, are other minorities doing better than African Americans? Those who are doing better are doing so not because of integration but in spite of integration.”

By Tracy Allen

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