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A Hue and Cry across the Land

August 27, 2020 (542 words)

It seems every organization in America, from acting troupes to tech firms, has felt compelled to issue a statement in recent weeks condemning racism and supporting diversity and inclusion. The consensus being expressed is so compelling one wonders how the problem could have ever developed in the first place, let alone become so ingrained.

The impassioned declarations of artistic directors, university presidents, and some of corporate America’s leading CEOs, are bracing and cathartic. It’s why some are calling this a “transformative social justice moment.”

But talk is cheap. The only way to make a dent in the under-representation thing is for leaders who are now publically prostrating themselves to actually hire more minorities.

The thought of a hiring or admission quota is anathema to many whites, but we’ve tried letting nature take its course and that hasn’t worked. Despite years of reassuring lip service about improving diversity from the likes of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the percentage of blacks in executive roles still doesn’t even hit 5%, when it should be three times that number.

To complain that someone is not up-to-snuff and only got their position by being a “minority hire” pre-supposes every white male executive, every white employee, is a stellar top performer. There is a lot of dead wood in many large organizations, so why should we get overly worked up if some of that dead wood turns out to be from minority stock.

The cream usually rises to the top. And if the cream is prevented from rising, if it is given only token responsibility, or if it is boxed out via office politics, that cream will move on, and possibility start their own enterprise, as so many white entrepreneurs have done in the past.

But we’ve got to get a representative number of blacks into the system, and give them a chance to acclimate themselves and bring their skills to bear.

As for how the problem ever developed in the first place, that’s easy. It’s our commitment to “personal freedom”. It’s the way we have enshrined “self-interest” as the best possible operating principle for society.

This may not have the bite of other’s cultural analysis, and it may strike you as overly simplistic. But what we are grappling with now on the thorny subject of race relations is nothing less than the unintended consequences of our founding creed of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The uniquely American concept of human flourishing through an “absence of obstacles” was contingent on everyone starting out from more or less the same place. Since most blacks initially arrived here in chains, never did they even remotely occupy the same place as whites in American society.

The spirit of secular modernism, embodied by our every-man-for-himself system of commerce, has compromised the religious orientation white Americans have historically claimed for themselves. This lapsed orientation should have mitigated the all-too-human tendency toward prejudice and bigotry that has produced the social and economic inequities now being scrutinized.

Once again we confront the fact that Christianity is incompatible with capitalism. At least with the version of capitalism we have been practicing for the last couple of centuries. The irony is well-meaning and well-off white Christians are among the last people to recognize this.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
August 27, 2020

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