Why Whites Don’t Understand the ‘Struggle’

Why don't most white people in corporate America understand the particular challenges facing blacks? Read what the White Guy has to say.

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:

Why do you think white people in general still do not get the “struggle” that many African Americans still face today, especially in the corporate world?



This is a subject near to my heart because realizing the gap between my perceptions and the reality of what African Americans go through on a daily basis is what drove me to devote my life’s work to this subject.


I concur with you. In my observation from personal experience, almost 100 percent of white people have almost no concept of the “struggle” that African Americans face today. They may think they do, but it’s not so.


I’m not ignoring bigots, but with rare exception, this lack of awareness is caused by benign ignorance. Most people view themselves as fair people; therefore, from the majority standpoint, society is fair, and they are fair, so “what’s the problem?”


This ignorance is expressed as exacerbation by white people when confronted with evidence that disrupts this rosy worldview.


For example, I watched Carson Daly and Wanda Sykes co-host a New Year’s special in 2005. After showing a Johnny Carson clip, Daly was musing over how much simpler things were back in 1963. Sykes commented on how they weren’t simpler for blacks and mentioned that she certainly wouldn’t have been a co-host in 1963. Daly wrinkled up his nose and said, “Oh, come on, it wasn’t so bad; we had Sammy Davis Jr.”


Sykes’s desire to “discuss” this with Daly was written on her face, but with 15 seconds left until midnight, she swallowed it and went on.


There’s nothing in Daly’s background or work that would tell me he’s a bigot. I’d say he typifies the average white guy: blissfully ignorant of racial issues–and decisively so!


Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is not without a cost. The majority culture blames the victim in just about every case when it comes to outcome (although the alternative is more accurate, it is understandably less comfortable for the majority and therefore avoided like the plague). However, blaming the victim costs money and decreases performance.


I recently spoke at a large technology-based firm. One of their executives asked me about a recent study, which showed that fewer black and Latino students are graduating with engineering and math degrees. I said that Department of Education statistics show graduation rates of black and Latino students are outpacing their respective growth in representation in our country.


This company was looking at an outcome and blaming the students. If they took a larger view, they would see the problem: Talented students of color are there, but they’re choosing other careers. The simple explanation is that there is far more demand for students of color from progressive companies, like those in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, than there is supply. Without a proper invitation, the (highly desired) students go into careers where they perceive they are wanted.


From a white perspective, this makes no sense. They’re good people; they run a “fair” company and they’ve never needed to issue an invitation to anyone. Why should they need to now?


So, bringing this back to your question, we can see that being ignorant of the “struggle” is costing this company in recruitment and retention because they’re not managing reality (and for those readers who are going to tell me it’s a government problem, please save your keystrokes: The government has pretty much proved itself to be incapable of managing the situation at hand).


My hunch is that this company will be OK, because unlike most companies, they understand the problem, want to control their future and are beginning to implement diversity management.


The consequence of not managing diversity (in this case) is that this company will continue to recruit from an ever decreasing pool of people as our country moves toward less than 50 percent white. In addition, what generational studies tell me is that the very management traits that define superior diversity management will also be required to recruit and retain the audience that most companies think they have a lock on: white men. To put an ironic twist on Dr. Johnnetta Cole’s favorite Zora Neale Hurston saying, older white men need to understand that many younger whites may feel that “All that are my skin folk ain’t my kin folk.”


By the way, for my white readers: There’s no better expression of ignorance than a white person describing themselves as “colorblind.”

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  • You’ve hit the nail on the head sir. Unfortunately I don’t believe that people will get the general understanding of what it is like until america is all of one color, or the government completely collapses.

    Until then the “struggle” for us “minorities” will continue…

  • We are shooting a documentary for a Major Cable Network and are looking for people (must appear to be 16-24) who want to openly talk about race and how it affects them.

    What is it like living in a town where everyone looks the same?

    How is race an issue in your community? Are you afraid to talk about race in your community?

    If you have difficulties identifying with a specific race and get criticized for it?

    Is race an issue in your community & does it affect you?

    If you have a unique story about how your race affects you in social situations, email a photo of yourself, your age, and a brief description about your race issue to ****

    We will be traveling to communities and colleges to discuss the idea of race and how it affects us in different ways.

    *This is for MTV’s anti-bias “Look Different Campaign”, and will be joining with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist/filmmaker, Jose Antonio Vargas, to explore how young white people are tackling issues of race in modern day America.

    MTV is seeking young people who are dealing with current situations in their lives, which are forcing them to examine their feelings on race. This is a groundbreaking event that will offer an outlet for young people to express themselves openly, and be received with respect.

    • Luke Visconti

      The email address this parasite tried to post on my website has been edited out. I think MTV is a giant carbuncle on our society. They have as much interest in diversity as I have in serving Chick-fil-A garbage. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • This article hit the nail on the head and really gives support to something I have been thinking about lately. I don’t understand the problems of minorities and I won’t be able to understand unless there is discussion. I want to start a campaign with the slogan “I can’t understand unless you tell me.” I don’t considered myself a bigot or a racist but I was raised in a totally white community with a bunch of scandavian decent people who all basically thought the same and race was not an issue. So I don’t know what it is like to live in public housing and I don’t understand gettting pulled over just because I was a certain skin color in a certain neighberhood and I don’t understand being raised in single family home with a parent with out a high school education let alone a college education but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know. When I see riots and protests I ask myself why it has come to this. My answer is because us white people are to scared to say I dont understand. Well I don’t understand but I want to and would hope more people could approach the situtation this way.

    • Luke Visconti

      In my opinion, you have more of an obligation to do some reading if you really want people to tell you what you don’t understand. Nobody is under the obligation to educate you from step zero. Also, please refrain from generalities if you want somebody to help you out—there are many nonwhite people who grew up in two-parent households and never lived in public housing.

      Most people have lives they want to live and things they want to do. So when you see protests, understand that they have been provoked to the point where they are willing to interrupt their lives—to stop doing what they want to do—in order to protest. There’s plenty of information about why that recently happened in Ferguson and New York and other cities around the country.

      What you do have to do to understand is to tune out your preconceived notions and read with an open mind. You should also consider your sources. If you watch FOX, for every hour of FOX, you should watch at least one hour of some other news source. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • But asian people have it very hard too, and some of them are new immigrants, but i see a lot of their offspring becoming very successful, I do not see what can hold back black people ?

    • Luke Visconti

      300 years of oppression. Don’t be ignorant, read about it for yourself so you don’t insult everyone around you as you tell the world you’re a fool. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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