Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

  • James Baldwin

It is a cloudy day is Los Angeles and I am at one of my beloved clients. As I weave my way through the parked white delivery trucks and walk into this urban workplace, I notice that much of humanity is apparent.

Recently, I saw a powerful movie, based on the last writings of James Baldwin, called I Am Not Your Negro. I was impacted by Baldwin’s idea of institutionalized racism and poverty. 

Although the urban work place at my client’s workplace is diverse, it is segregated by manufacturing jobs versus more executive and technical jobs, by lower-paying jobs versus higher-paying jobs. The non-white folks are over there and the white folks are over here. 

Where does the segregation cycle start? Mr. Baldwin suggests it starts with separate neighborhoods with high incidence of violence, poverty and bad schools. You know the neighborhoods I am referring to. That you know where the diversity splits occur speaks to exactly what Baldwin is pointing to. People born into this kind of culture are more likely to not be as economically successful as those born into more affluent surroundings.

Mr. Baldwin contends that the race debacle will not be solved if we think of it as “those people” versus “us people.” Until it occurs as “our” problem involving “our” people and “our” children, there is very little entrance into solving these problems. In some ways, we must get beyond race to deal with race. 

In business, our conversation is about controlling costs, the price of labor, running good businesses, and making profit — not in terms of people having a living wage or whether workers can support themselves and live somewhere where they can access good schools. We don’t think like that because workers are not “our” people; they are “those” people. At best, it is the government’s problem, not our problem. 

Does my Mexican housekeeper earn a living wage? Do I even care? Am I out to just get the best deal I can and pay as little as possible? What if she were “my” people and her children were “my” children? 

The murder rate in Chicago is the highest in the country, but only in the most impoverished neighborhoods, not in mine and probably not in yours. Why is that? 

Now the question is what can I do? I am starting a conversation with business owners. What is our role in this? Who are we going to be in the face of institutionalized racism and poverty? How are we going to define a role for ourselves in the discussion about a living wage? 

What can I influence? What actions can I take beyond being bothered and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this issue? It is easy to be a bystander when it is those people having issues. When I see it as Our people having issues, Our schools that do not work, and Our people who do not have access to jobs and safety, then My world alters and a new view emerges. 

These are interesting times for engaging in the possibility of a world that works for everyone with no one left out. Is this a possibility worth working for? Is this an idea whose time has come?  

These are all our children. We will profit by or pay for whatever they become.

  • James Baldwin

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