Why Whites Can’t ‘Get Over’ Color

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion: 

This is in reference to the article, Are Whites Too Sensitive?  I have read articles that this company has put out stating, What Not To Say To Blacks or What Not To Say To Latinos and so on.  How come all of a sudden there is an article written saying we (whites) are too sensitive? [Is this] just because, for once, in the last 4 months I have been signed up to receive these articles, there is an article about whites and what maybe some whites feel. 

 

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don’t talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination.  We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired.  I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against.  Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc.  If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar. 

 

I know there are white extremist groups out there but I am not talking about extremist groups.  Another point I would like to make is blacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books.  Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites.  I have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America.  Well, my answer to that is of two fold…Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.  My ancestors are from other parts of the world and I am proud to be an American.  I would not have everything I have now if they decided to stay where they were.  

 

I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. Why not embrace that instead of constantly bickering over it. We need to start looking into the future instead of constantly looking behind us and pointing the finger at people who were not even thought of in the times of slavery.  Yes, it was a terrible thing to have happened to anyone’s ancestors but until we get over the past we will never fully get along.  I teach my children not to see the color but to see the person. It is getting harder to do when all they hear about in the news, school, or articles is color.  Get over the color!  We are all Americans and instead of fighting between ourselves, we need to worry about turning our country back around.  There are important issues out there that if we do not address them and come together, then we could say goodbye to our freedom.  


Answer:

Thank you for your e-mail.  


As a member of the baby boomer generation, I found your e-mail to be a real blast from the past: Your one e-mail covered most of the race-based malarkey I heard growing up. Questioning this dogma may lead you to a better place – it did for me.


Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don’t think you intended it to be offensive, but I’m afraid much of your e-mail is.


I’ll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, “discrimination” included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.  

 

The UNCF was founded to support our nation’s network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — the sole source of higher education for Black Americans until the 1960s. Black people had practically no access to “mainstream” higher education.


The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching — until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers. The NAACP was also instrumental in desegregating public higher education — with the help of the NAACP and the intercession of the federal government, James Meredith became the first Black student to be accepted to the University of Mississippi. He graduated in 1964.

 

Black Entertainment Television (BET) was launched and is still commercially viable because of the overwhelming lack of diversity in “mainstream” media. “Mainstream” media can be more accurately called white media. For example, there are practically no Black people featured in The New Yorker magazine, and no major Black characters on mega-hit television shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld,” which were set in New York City (the city’s population is 26 percent Black).

 

A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn’t an isolated mistake; around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person: an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.

 

Please don’t think this is isolated to one retailer or one publishing company. Exclusion of people of color is a consistent theme in media and the ad agency industry. For example, I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss “diversity.” At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents, one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York, a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.

 

BET exists because “mainstream” media is exclusionary. It’s their loss: BET has earned hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars over the course of its existence.

 

I was sad to read your comment that you “have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America.” You also say that if your ancestors did not immigrate to the United States, you “would not have everything I have now if they decided to stay where they were.” I was sad because you don’t have a good grasp of the history of our country that you (and I) are proud of.

 

With the exception of recent Black immigrants from countries in Africa, Black Americans — African Americans — are descendents of enslaved people. Enslaved people were taken here against their will and were subjected to the worst deprivations that people commit against each other. Tribal languages and histories were lost because white slavers forced families apart and purposefully prevented enslaved Black people from learning to read and write. Slavery lasted for more than 200 years in our country and legalized discrimination lasted almost another 100 years during the Jim Crow era. You may want to read up on this. I suggest Frederick Douglass’s “My Bondage and My Freedom” as a start. If you want to learn about one of our nation’s finest periods of history, I suggest you read the three books Taylor Branch recently wrote about the Civil Rights movement.

 

Your demand that we “Get over the color!” is an expression of white privilege. It’s only possible to “get over” it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you’re white, YOU can “get over the color!” but it’s simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

 

You close with an illuminating contradiction. You can’t celebrate “color and different cultures” and embrace the “melting pot” at the same time. The “melting pot” is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to “melt” into the white culture.

 

Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American. What makes a person an American is embracing our Constitution, which empowers and protects our individual ability to remain ourselves.

 

The power of our nation is that we have the ability to embrace other cultures while uniting under the principles of human and civil rights. Our country is not perfect, but it has consistently been better than most places on the planet.  There are HUGE disparities that are defined by what “color” a person is – and gender, disability, orientation, etc. I will also say that melting into a pot obliterates the advantages that different cultures and cultural approaches to problem solving contribute to innovation.

 

When you hear criticism, you may want to consider that it is displeasure over our country’s inability to completely live up to the promise – and potential – of what truly makes us American. The more we work toward that ideal, the more “we will get along.”

 

P.S.: I am withholding your name because it’s fairly unique and I’m sure you would be easily identified where you work. That’s not my concern — I just don’t want to dissuade other people who think like you do from writing us.

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15 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for a very enlightening article.

  • Anonymous

    I loved that answer. I could not have said that any better myself, kudos!

  • Anonymous

    I teach diversity and government and I joined this website for objective discussions and information on current national issues regarding diversity. I am disappointed to say I have found this website to be extremely biased on racism and it blatantly encourages dividing people based on race. The woman’s email above was actually promoting getting along no matter what race or religion someone is. The response to her was to say she is white and just doesn’t get it because she is white. This brings me to the same question: who really is the racist here in this situation? It is very clear to me and it was to my college students as well when I presented this. Believe it or not, my students are predominately African-American.

    • The problem “is” races. Racial categories were scientifically disproven in the 20th century. It separates Americans. Culture is what really distinguishes us. It is what made us before we became Americans in the first place, either through immigration or slavery. Race is what you need to get over, then we can be real equals.

    • “…The response to her was to say she is white and just doesn’t get it because she is white. This brings me to the same question: who really is the racist here in this situation?”

      EXCELLENT!! My thoughts exactly!!

      • your comment is absolutely ignorant as to her question was in the first place.If white america would stop trying to hide its horrible past of slavery in which they do because they have taken it out of school books and media in which they control then she may have had a better understanding.For over 200 yrs of slavery, white america has profit and we have to work hard for what we get.main stream white america will not level the playing field,whites in law enforcement and the judicial system and corporate america make sure that we don’t.this is why we have the few organizations to help protect us.America was built of slavery,the wealth that you control was from us from our labor you should have picked your own cotton and farmed your own lands.what white people did and do to African american still to this day is just pure evil, calculating, arrogant and disgusting.And if you want to teach diversity you must first own up to the past and whats happening now and be held accountable. “WE DON’T COME FOR YOU ,YOU HOLD US DOWN AND COME FOR US!

  • Anonymous

    As someone finishing up a Master’s degree in European and Middle Eastern Studies, I have a pretty good handle on issues relating to cultural, racial, and religious diversity in the modern West. This article and others penned by Mr. Visconti have certainly been enlightening although not in the sense that is encouraging. Although Visconti “gets” white privilege and discrimination as well as your typical left-of-center American, as a CEO of a well-known business, his commentary receives greater weight than it deserves. This in itself is symptomatic of American culture which often conflates economic acumen with intellectual acuity. His analysis and treatment of race consists of a number of post-60s politically correct thematics recycled from corporate handbooks and political platforms–i.e., an old product rebranded, which probably explains his tendency to talk “at” whites who don’t get it, rather than with them. As a purportedly serious approach to interracial rapprochement, it is atrociously facile and simplistic. For instance, what makes an American and, indeed, a nation is a matter of ongoing debate in academic circles; telling people to “read the Constitution,” as if the answer to these things is just waiting for them there wrapped in gold paper, is a pathetic cop-out. As Visconti himself highlighted when addressing the melting pot vs celebrating diversity dichotomy, white Americans are subjected to numerous conflicting socio-cultural theories as to how they are supposed to relate to minorities, and indeed how America is supposed to walk that fine balance (and Mr. Visconti, it is a fine balance) between the appreciation for diversity and the prerequisite unity that a nation needs to remain viable. One need only refer to the bloody civil conflicts that have erupted worldwide to understand that national coherence is not a given, and no document in the world can make it so. Granted, Visconti is a businessman, not a scholar. But the fact that his simplistic viewpoint is given a mouthpiece not only through DiversityInc Media but outlets like the NYT is disappointing if not troublesome because it merely reflects the same tired “sinners and saints” mentality: those who read Visconti’s remarks will either already agree with their essence or will be given a virtual time out, complete with a link to one of his illustrious articles.

    • Simplistic as it may be, his analysis was accurate. You, however, seem to intellectualize to show how “learned” you “think” you are. As an African American woman, I will speak for ME. I have lived all over this country in both back and mixed communities. I am old enough to have experienced living as a child in the segregated south. Let me speak to racism and the residual effects of slavery, Jim Crow and illegal Jim Crow. Lets just look at standards of beauty – as a child, I never saw a Black doll until I was maybe 10 years old. My mother finally found one and brought it home. Magazines never showed models, singers, actors, professionals, etc., that looked like “US”. Although our parents supported us, we lived in a world that we KNEW, we were not totally a part of. From all forms of media, the message was that Black people were inferior and did not meet the “nations” standard of beauty. White children did not experience that kind of assault on their being. For years and years afterward, i struggled with my identity. When I had children, I struggled with making sure my daughter was told every day how pretty she was. In spite of my efforts, she asked me the same question I had asked my mother years before, “Mom, why are there no Black women who look like me in these magazines?” It clearly remained a struggle for her. My sons I would tell not to ride in a car with more than one other Black friend because of the likelihood that they would be pulled over by the police and might end up in jail or dead for “Driving while Black”. White mother’s don’t have to worry about that and their sons don’t grow up knowing they are considered “different.”. As recently as last year while visiting my son, he was stopped for no reason other than “driving while Black”. When asked why he was stopped the officer would not reply other than to say, he wanted to see his driver’s license and registration and asked whether the car was his or not. The car was a mercedes as though we aren’t supposed to have one. The New York Civil Rights Commission did a study maybe 10-15 years ago where they followed the daily activities of a Black and white tester to see whether there was a difference in treatment, just in daily life. They reported that in EVERY SINGLE instance, the white tester was treated more favorably than the Black tester – renting apartments, buying cars, employment etc., etc., In the past 5 or so years, a study was done on Black and white felons looking for work after getting out of jail. Not onlly were the white felons called backj more often than the Black felons were, but they were called back more often than Black men with NO records. I could go ON and On and On but why? White privilege does exist TODAY and whites still refuse to accept that you reap the benefits of a racist system even if you didn’t set up the system. The fifty year old doll test given young children was repeated in a harlem school a few years ago. The results were so similar it was frightening – black children choosing the white dolls as the pretty and smart dolls and the black dolls (like them) as the ugly dolls. Speaks to the systemic conditioning of Blacks at a young age to see themselves as “LESSER” than whites. As simple as it is, “YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHAT YOU DON’T ACKNOWLEDGE” even with all of your learning.

  • Anonymous

    I think that it is very unfortunate and telling that the person who teaches diversity and government agrees with the women who originally wrote this article. While Luke Visconti might not be a “scholar” (whatever that antiquated and haughty comment actually means), he is absolutely true that prescribing to a color-blind mode of thinking is inherently racist. To the orginal woman and the person who teaches diversity, your line of thinking comes directly from privilege. Color-blind proponents always seem to misunderstand that diversity is not achieved by minimilizing racial differences and forcing people of color to assimilate into white culture, but rather understand and affirming the different experiences that people in America experience because of their race. Only once people understand how race still plays out today, and not before then, can people achieve true diversity (which isn’t minimilizing differences, but leveraging them).

    I would suggest to the “scholar” and also to the diversity teacher that you look for more qualified people to speak on race. Unfortuantely, it seems as if for one of you your education has failed you and another you are perpetuating a false reality…

  • The true secret to it all is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  • There is a division between blacks and whites because there is a misunderstanding of the to cultures. I blame media. Whites are portrayed as having had everything handed to them on a silver platter while blacks have to work hard for everything. Blacks are considered hostile whites are considered calm and collected. Instead of everyone considering their selves as equals they choose to see the difference instead of the likeness. What people need to understand is we are all one we bleed red we all have problems we are all the same.

  • I also am a woman of color and damn proud of it!!! I know how you feel about our ancestors beings enslaved but o feel sad for them but how can I live a fulfilling life if all I do is dwell on the past? I have chosen to teach my children that was the past this is the future!! God bless

  • I agree with Maria we can not dwell on the past. With that said there is a difference between learning from the past and dwelling on the past. You need to learn not to make the same mistakes that was made in the past but do not live in the past. I am white, most of my family came from Germany during WW2 to escape from Hitler’s beliefs. They were not even in the country when slavery was allowed. The members of my family that was here during slavery were black slaves. So what am I a privileged white, or a poor black (since the media and people that live in the past would have me believe that is the only things I could be.) In truth I am neither! I am an American trying to live and support my family. The same as most people in OUR country.

    • Luke Visconti

      You have the luxury of “not dwelling on the past.” And, yes, you have white privilege. You should be more respectful. Enslaved Black people are a major economic reason why your family had a place to flee to. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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