Archived: The White Guy Talks About Michael Richards

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.


Question:

After the Michael Richards incident, I’d really like to know if you think all white people (and perhaps I should say all people) are racist at heart and that their true feelings are submerged by political correctness. Is that latent rage there in everyone

Answer:

After seeing the video a few times, I think Michael Richards is a pathetic hate-filled man. I have no sympathy for him and I think the person overheard on the video was right: The reason he’s had no post-“Seinfeld” career is evident in his outburst.

Thankfully, most people do not have this level of rage inside of them. It may be hard for non-white people to imagine, but most white people don’t even think of race on a regular basis. I think that is the natural state for human beings. We’re tribal and when we’re within your own tribe, why would you give another tribe a second thought Being a member of a dominant culture gives a person that luxury.

When a person who is not thinking about race gets in a situation where race is an issue, they can sometimes express themselves in inappropriate ways (“You’re so articulate,” “Some of my best friends are black,” etc.) This “politically correct speech” is almost always an expression of ignorance or unfamiliarity,” usually not bigotry or suppressed rage.

Please understand that I am not dismissing overt bigots (or self-hating people).

Good people can direct negative energy in positive ways. Discomfort from ignorance can be channeled into learning. Discrimination can be channeled into working for progress. Two weeks ago, I had lunch with Johnnie Booker, Coca-Cola’s supplier-diversity director and lifelong civil-rights activist. She told me that there is no hate in her heart but that she despises injustice. She’s worked her entire life to create opportunities for our entire country by eliminating roadblocks based on race.

In essence, this is at the heart of diversity management. Learning, knowledge, understanding, eliminating roadblocks, leveraging our differences to build better relationships with employees, customers, investors and suppliers, creating greater wealth for all by enabling equal access to talent and capital.

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