‘Regardless Of,’ ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ — Bigoted Phrases in Common Use

Credibility is at the core of a successful diversity management effort. Secretary Tillerson provides a teachable moment.

REUTERS

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.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is speaking about race as I write this. Humiliated by his boss, he’s trying his best to sound like a nice guy who doesn’t believe that Nazis and people who oppose Nazis are equivalent. He is going to try a diversity effort at the State Department.

He’s making some classic mistakes. When a white man says “regardless of” race/gender/orientation/disability — look out, they don’t mean what they’re going to say next. If we are addressing existing disparities, it is never regardless of; it is because of. “Regardless of” dismisses the person you’re referring to. It assumes a neutrality a white man like Tillerson simply doesn’t have. Was Tillerson able to become the CEO of Exxon regardless of the fact that he was from Texas, an engineer and a white man? The person who succeeded Tillerson at Exxon is from Texas, has an engineering degree and is a white man, not an Asian woman with a nursing degree. If you cannot start the conversation with honesty, insight and clarity, you will never have the credibility to earn a successful conclusion.

He also quoted “my friend” Condoleezza Rice with another classic phrase of (perhaps well-meaning) clueless people: “It doesn’t matter where you came from.” Oh yes it does — especially for the State Department. Where you come from is going to shape your point of view and how you approach problems and solutions. I would think that the State Department should especially desire differences of where people come from (even from within the United States). When you dismiss people and their backgrounds with “it doesn’t matter,” you fail to honor or respect who they are. Not the basis to start a relationship. Certainly not the way to get the maximum productivity and advantage out of the differences — if you fail to recognize them as assets.

Secretary Tillerson is also describing diversity management initiatives that are very 20 years ago. The “Rooney Rule” for senior positions is just foolish if you’re limited to promoting from within and your organization has not developed talent equitably. You are never going to be successful if you don’t have goals, the means to accomplish them, an executive diversity council to oversee the efforts and the guts to hold specific people accountable.

After we have all recently seen white male behavior in Charlottesville and subsequent white male behavior from the president of the United States (the stereotype stings, but that’s how most non-white, non-male people see it), white male leaders need to be very careful in their communications and efforts. The level of scrutiny, distrust and frustration has never been greater. I recommend white men be well-read and well-informed. It is offensive to assume the imprimatur over a diversity effort simply because you are/were a CEO, just as it would be offensive to go to MIT with your 40-year-old engineering degree and start teaching 400 level math. Start with books: “Chokehold,” “Slavery By Another Name,” “The New Jim Crow,” “White Rage” and “My Bondage and My Freedom.”

Engage in honest dialogue, perhaps through your resource groups, with people who don’t look like you and are not from your privileged background. Listen more than you speak in those encounters. Understand it may take some time for people to trust you enough to be honest with you. Have (and express) some humility for your ignorance — you will find it received with great warmth and acceptance. Remember that actions speak louder than words; volunteer in places where you may pick up some first-hand experience and knowledge.

I wish Secretary Tillerson success, but I’m not betting on it.

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34 comments


  • A personal pet peeve: “It doesn’t matter if you’re Black, White, purple or polka-dotted….” This ridiculous preamble — or its ilk — almost always precedes some incredibly racist conclusion. I’m guessing it’s a “dog whistle.”

  • Mr. Visconti, well written and well said. Thank you for your commitment to TRUE diversity, not the FALSE kind in so-called “liberal” Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles where BEDROOM diversity is liberally practiced, not corporate BOARDROOM diversity.

    Every time a white racist like Tillerson, Clinton, or tRUMP cites a Black “friend,” it’s a sold-out Uncle Tom like Condoleeza, Whoopie, Vernon Jordan, or Kanye, who most Black people don’t respect or identify with. It’s NOT PREJUDICE, but PREFERENCE when Blacks expect successful Blacks to date and marry other Blacks. It’s about economic wealth-building, not reverse racism.

    It does matter where you come from: A Black Northerner like me, who grew up in a de facto segregated ghetto would be more influenced by Malcolm X, than Black Southerners like Condoleeza, Clarence ThomAss, and Vernon Jordan [with inbred latent inferiority complexes] who are willing accomplices to do the “dirty work” for the devilish BUSHWackers and Clit-Ons [pun intended]. Being white and male or female matters, even when they are LESS EDUCATED and less COMPETENT than Black co-workers; they’re ALWAYS placed in a supervisory [read: plantation overseer] position.

    TRump won because racist, inbred, white AmeriKKKans from all walks of life want WHITE SUPREMACY to reign, not DIVERSITY.

    Your work is not in vain, Mr. Visconti– small accomplishments are better than none.

    • So any person of color that does not espouse to be a victim and has made success on their own is a sell out? Uncle Tom?

      • No, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Condoleeza reflects the mainstream opinions of college educated Black America. She’s done a great job of emulating the ideal of what white republicans think a Black woman should be, her high water mark was assembling the “intelligence” (lies) that served as the justification for W to illegally invade Iraq.

        We killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi noncombatants under those false pretenses. No apology. No restitution. And after eight years of negotiation with Shia Iran, we’re back to sucking up to Sunni Saudi Arabia- where the 9/11 terrorists and their wahabbist funding came from.

        http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/01/10/wbr.smoking.gun/

        There was a Republican effort to revive her career as a potential VP for Jeb!, but that ended in an orange WMD.

  • As I’m preparing a D&I training for my government Agency, the content provides great context so that I can explain various concepts to participants within the class.

  • Is it not possible for a man like Tillerson to strive for neutrality? Your article seems predicated on the idea that Tillerson is inherently biased by his status as a white male, but such an inherent bias is countered by your own writing of the article. If it is possible for you to be level-headed and neutral, why can Tillerson not be? Surely ‘regardless of’ indicates a desire to become neutral. You could as easily interpret Tillerson’s comments as a desire to become neutral, to base decisions on individual merit (which can, of course, be reliant on upbringing and ‘where you come from’), rather than simply ‘where you come from’.

    I must admit, your conclusion leaves me a little confused.

    • Yes, it’s possible and I think Secretary Tillerson probably has the best intentions. But here are his results from being ceo of Exxonmobil: 5 white men in the executive committee. http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/company/about-us/management.

      In the next level down, there are 20 people, 19 men, one white woman, They cleverly used initials for first and middle names for those executives on their website, but couldn’t find a Black man or any no apparent Latinos or Asians out of the top 24 men. http://www.reuters.com/finance/stocks/companyOfficers?symbol=XOM

      No Latinos. In Texas. How hard did they have to try to accomplish that?!

      Their board is diverse which makes me wonder about what the people on it are thinking.

      An epic fail at inclusion. If I were made coach of the the Yankees – all of my good intentions would not get the team to the World Series.

      • Interesting point. Without knowing much about Exxonmobil’s board or decision structure, I couldn’t hope to advocate in their favour on that one. It just was curious to me that you would phrase it as “When a white man says “regardless of” race/gender/orientation/disability — look out, they don’t mean what they’re going to say next,” discounting Tillerson’s intent. But what you’ve said besides is certainly food for thought.

        • “When a white man says “regardless of” race/gender/orientation/disability — look out, they don’t mean what they’re going to say next,”

          They. don’t mean what they’re going to say next because their white privilege allows them to be oblivious to the inaccuracy of what they’re going to say next. May not be intentional, but it’s still wrong.

          • Thought I’d check back in… glad I did.

            The implication underlying your statement is that white privilege automatically delegitimises any comment made by a white person. This is self-contradictory.

          • I understand why you would think that, but you’ve misunderstood my point.

            Many white people are aware of white privilege. They don’t say “regardless of” or “it doesn’t matter”.

            It is easier to understand with a non race area of information, for example, I am aware of my lack of knowledge in nuclear physics. If someone asked me a question about it, I’d say “I am only casually aware of nuclear physics.” But the problem with being in the majority is that you assume more knowledge about people not in the majority than you actually possess.

          • Okay, I think I can see your point. Essentially, assuming race isn’t a factor indicates ignorance, and white privilege is essentially ‘ignorance of ignorance’.

            I would say your tone in the article is probably more accusatory and divisive than you meant it to be, but yeah, I can agree with that underlying point.

          • Accusatory perhaps, but ignorance of ignorance is hardly an excuse on the heels of Charlottesville for Rex Tillerson. He was the CEO of Exxonmobil, the largest publicly traded oil company, before he became Secretary of State. He has the responsibility and resources to know better – especially as he now speaks about diversity with the imprimatur of the United States of America.

            It’s helpful to frame this discussion with current events: Exxonmobil made $3,400,000,000 ($3.4 billion) in profit for the months of April, May and June of this year (second quarter). That’s $28 million in profits every day.

            According to CNN: “Exxon Mobil (XOM) on Friday said it’s donating $500,000 to Red Cross organizations along the U.S. Gulf Coast to aid with relief efforts. On Tuesday, the company contributed $500,000 to the United Way of Greater Houston.”

            $1 million is 0.03% of second quarter profits. It is 3.5% of today’s profits. Exxonmobil’s headquarters is in Texas. Just sayin’.

          • Of course, I in no terms wanted to offer an excuse.

            Although, I don’t really see any connection between the location of Exxonmobil’s headquarters and the amount of money they donated to Harvey relief efforts.

          • I didn’t think you were. Your comments are refreshingly neutral.

            Regarding their donation: I think it’s very telling. A donation of less than 0.001% of this year’s profits for disaster relief for a 1 in 1,000 year flood, in your home state, reflects stone cold indifference to other people – or even how things look. IMO, they’d have been better off saying and doing absolutely nothing.

            “Regardless of” is an expression of indifference as well.

            FWIW, my company will donate roughly 3% of its GROSS revenue to charity this year. To put that in perspective, last year, Exxonmobil’s gross revenue was $216 billion, so a 3% donation would be almost $6.5 billion.

          • Most companies who have sent relief have donated comparable amounts to the number you cite, and given ExxonMobil’s latest releases, only a handful of companies top their current $9.5mill pledge (of course, when I say pledge some of it is contingent on other factors, as is the case with most of these companies). Of the closest estimate I could find, ExxonMobil has contributed ~5% of all financial relief.

            While ExxonMobil certainly could be doing far more, I don’t think $9.5mill reflects ‘stone cold indifference’. It’s definitely in part a coldly calculated PR decision, but the same could be said for Toyota or Apple or any of the other giants donating $1mill to the relief efforts.

            Tillerson’s comments are similar, definitely in part PR, but the fact that the rhetoric is spouted at least indicates some sense of moral obligation.

          • UPDATE: I would commend you for that, absolutely. I think your company and vision are both fantastic and would not seek to diminish either.

            ExxonMobil ought to do more. But they are still doing something, and I think its powerful we live in a society that incentivises ethics in such a way that even the most coldly logical machines like these companies are financially obligated to help people.

      • I don’t know about Mr. Tsuyuri, but I certainly see what you mean… Thanks, Mr. Visconti!

        I’ve sometimes thought that advocates like you and Tim Wise, an enthusiastic advocate against racism and white privilege, were occasionally a bit too abrasive and confrontational. But when I shared an article on Facebook by Angela Watson, who seemed VERY nice and unthreatening, I saw no evidence that anyone actually read it. If anyone did read it, they were not moved to comment or acknowledge it in any way. Although Ms. Watson seems no less passionate and committed than you guys — and although she was much kinder (and more appreciative of human frailty AND human strength, IMHO) — there were STILL folks who let her know that they had to stop reading what she wrote, after barely beginning it, because they felt too attacked and too criticized.

        So, it seems, whether one is intentionally provocative or intentionally placating, the message is too often not being received by those who most need to hear it.

        That’s why I thank you and DiversityInc,com for all you do and for not giving up.

        See https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/truth-for-teachers-podcast/10-things-every-white-teacher-know-talking-race/ for Ms. Watson’s ATTEMPTED contribution to the cause and also see a less-in-your-face-than-he-sometimes-is Mr. Wise at https://www.facebook.com/ATTNVideo/videos/1744852582486362/.

        Thanks again, Luke (if I may be so familiar).

  • Sholem Prasow

    As an Engineer who graduated 50 years ago, all I can say is, Luke, you just did it yourself!

    While I would not offer to teach 400 level Math to my alma mater, I did send them the following Linked In message a few minutes ago… “If you’re interested I could offer your Entrepreneurship group a program on “worldwide advances in Privacy and what they mean both to risk/compliance and business ethics.”

  • Question not related to race: In the sentence about race, gender, and college degree for the CEOs of Exxon, “The person who succeeded Tillerson at Exxon is from Texas, has an engineering degree and is a white man, not an Asian woman with a nursing degree, ” How would a nursing degree be applicable to running an energy company? I understand your comments about race and gender, but not the part about degree qualification.

    • Glad you asked, I didn’t pick it at random. She’s not Asian, but the woman who grew Pew Research into the preeminent source of information that it is, Rebecca Rimel, was a nurse who had no other qualifications than treating a Pew family member with kindness, empathy and competence.

      As my 400 level genetics professor said on the first day of class, January 1981, everything you learn in this class will be outdated by June.

      Almost nothing Rex Tillerson or his successors learned about engineering in college is relevant to being Exxonmobil’s CEO today, except for the discipline of learning. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after one semester. Was that 1 semester significant in his success?

  • Getting Whites to admit their privileged and not socio-economic victims is indeed a prevalent issue existing on both right and left political ideologies. Their racism trickles into their political philosophies sometimes with them unconsciously espousing falsehoods and inaccurate racial realities. For me it appears White Americans as a collective are experiencing a moral identity crisis being barraged by other racial groups now holding Whites accountable for their actions, ancestor’s misdeeds and their subsequent privilege.

    I’ve gotten into a few disagreements on this site with Whites codified in this racial based procedural thinking they covet. You even see it on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show where Maher and some guest will at times relegate criticism of Whites and their institutions as a criticism of Whites gone too far. Whites aren’t prepared for this and it’s evident. The right for obvious reasons should go unsaid. The left however is where the focus must be applied they aren’t invested in receiving such label.

  • Hummmmm.....

    Good article and I understand and agree with the intent. I am having a little trouble with the portion about how phrases are interpreted. The phrase “regardless of” should be exchanged with “because of”. If a person says “I want that hamburger regardless of how well cooked it is” would mean the person doesn’t care how well cooked it is. If a person says “I want that hamburger because of how it’s cooked” would mean the person does care how well cooked it is. So if a person says “i will hire that person regardless of his/her skin tone”, wouldn’t that mean that that person doesn’t care about that person’s skin tone in hiring? If “because of” is substituted, then the sentence would read “I will hire that person because of his/her skin tone”. Would that not mean skin tone was a reason for hiring them? The term “regardless of” doesn’t dismiss the person being referred to, it is used to say that some attribute is not being considered. In the case of Rex Tillerson, the attributes not being considered are those that have been used to unfairly discriminate at the State Department. Again, I agree with the article, except for how the phrases are interpreted.

  • Ennaid Dianne

    White folks and Black folks have been interacting for about 350-400 years and white folks still trying to figure out how to understand and treat Black folks. What’s wrong with these people that they need diversity training to gain skills on how to relate to other people like human beings? You’re supposed to be the most intelligent people on the planet but when it comes to valuing and respecting other people, you’re lost. When a white man looks up in the sky and exclaims oh lawd, I just don’t know what the problem is, that means he knows and it’s not in his best interest to fix it. When there’s something that’s going to benefit him, usually financially (colonialism, enslavement, poisoning the environment, hunting animals to extinction for profit, pillaging, rape, etc), he’s on it and doesn’t quit until his white supremacist plans are in place, even if it takes 100 years or more. What’s funny is he thinks no one knows what he’s doing. It’s hilarious.

    • Most people cannot kill or enslave a person they view as an equal. So propaganda must be created to make it palatable. The Bible is leveraged (read “Noah’s Curse”), enslavement is positioned as “saving the savage”, existing cultures are denigrated, families and tribes are split apart, rebellion is brutally smashed. Terrorism.

      You cant immediately undo 300 years of programming. The key question for well meaning white people is: what are you willing to give up? Some cherished myths, for a start.

      Our country is not perfect.
      It is not “those people’s” fault.
      You can’t make America Great Again by oppression.

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