Are Your Employees Taking a Knee?

What corporate leaders can learn from NFL team owners’ sudden support of their football players.

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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

NFL football team owners, many of whom gave $1 million plus to the Trump campaign, largely sided with their players this weekend in their continuing nonviolent protests of injustice in our criminal justice system. Despite their previous support for the man, none of the owners fired any “son of a bitch” off the field for nonviolent protest, as President Donald Trump suggested.

I don’t think the owners’ stripes have changed; they just have more clarity than most CEOs because the way they make money is off the brains of their players, who are 70 percent Black.

So what should corporate leaders do today? If you haven’t already thought seriously about making a statement, now’s the time. No statement equals tacit approval of Trump and his divide and conquer political strategy.

Trump has said several times that “this is not about race.” He’s absolutely wrong; it’s all about race. Remember, these nonviolent protests started after Ferguson — and subsequently took place following event after event, documented on cell phone video, and trial after trial where police have been exonerated for what is clearly unjust killing.

Starting with enslaved Africans brought here in 1619, confirmed in Article One, Section Two, Paragraph Three of our Constitution, where enslaved Black people are counted as three-fifths of a human being to determine the number of Representatives for each state in Congress, it is about race. Right up to the birther racist nonsense that Trump was the chief advocate for, it is about race.

If you are a leader, it matters what you think in times like this. Even if you’ve previously been supportive, like the suddenly-in-lockstep-with-their-players NFL team owners, you must take stock of what is in your stakeholder’s best interests. Employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers — they are all looking to you for leadership.

There are some words/phrases you should definitely think about before they come out of your mouth: words like “tolerance” or “on both sides,” or expressing respect for “all points of view.” If your speechwriter put those things in there, I suggest you wait a day and write your speech yourself — unless, of course, you want to send a message.

If you don’t have a grounding in why these things are offensive — not “might be” offensive, but are offensive — I suggest you read a few books and (if you don’t already have some) develop some close Black friends to speak forthrightly with. Read Frederick Douglass’ “My Bondage and My Freedom,” Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name” and Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White.” You may even want to come to our event this week just to hear professor Carol Anderson, author of “White Rage.”

If you are uncertain about the urgency of NFL player protests, read “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” by professor and former prosecutor Paul Butler.

And if you still think it’s not about race, think about what Trump is talking about and consider the dire plight of American citizens on American soil in Puerto Rico. There is literally a dam about to burst.

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