Overcoming the fear of discussing race relations

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Kudos to Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz for opening up a dialogue with over 2,000 Starbucks employees about race relations in this county. Hopefully the dialogue will serve as a foundation for identifying any systemic biases and prejudices that may exist within the company’s culture that could potentially limit the corporation’s ability to reach its bottom line…profits and power!

This is where private and public sectors leaders can get lost, they lose sight of the bottom line. When lines get cloudy as a result of individual prejudices and biases, hate leaders can find themselves often time serving as referees and surrogate parents as opposed to leaders whom are managing toward result oriented goals.

According to Forbes, the Starbucks brand is valued at approximately $10.5 billion. As a result Forbes has it ranked as the 52nd most valuable brand. In 2000 they were ranked no. 460.  That kind of progress ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at. However, while I don’t claim to be a financial wizard, I can’t help but wonder if the reason Schultz began the dialogue about race relations is tied to Starbucks is striving to be the number one ranked brand in the world.

 If that were factual they would have to surpass Apple whose brand is valued at approximately $145.3 billion. That appears to be a logical thought in light of the fact Starbucks’ ranking has increased by 11 percent (please check my math) in just 15 years. It stands to reason that by 2030 the Starbucks brand could be very easily ranked as number one.

My comments are purely conjecture but they serve to bring home a point of why it is important for organizations, communities and government officials to lead discussions about race relations within those areas they hold some responsibility for leading people. If my conjecture was indeed accurate, one could speculate that as a part of Starbucks’ strategic focus to become the number one brand in the world, they would have to identify any and all threats that could prevent them from reaching their goal and then turn those threats into opportunities to correct some things.

My point? Leaders must accept this basic truth, we will never eradicate racism!

According to our forefathers, we live in a country where by merely being born in the United States we have certain inalienable rights! The one that comes to mind initially is the right for all to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore when we spend our time trying to convince racist folks to change their thoughts about their prejudices and their biases, we could potentially waste a lot of valuable time and then have nothing to show for it.

I choose to believe Schulz chose to discuss race relations with his staff because he  and maybe other Starbuck stakeholder viewed a culture that accepted racism and simply saw it as threat to Starbucks bottom lines—profit and power!

Here lies my point, the framework for leaders to have an open and honest dialogue about race has to be grounded in leaders asking themselves a fundamental question: If I don’t lead a discussion about race relations and have people engaged in meaningful discussions that first must identify and accept racism is alive and well, will my bottom line be adversely impacted?

If Governor Haley of South Carolina were asked this question, and would have had the  opportunity to lead and participate in honest discussions about race relations, could the events of Wednesday June 10, 2015,  been avoided?

This murderer was obviously influenced by the culture he lived in, and from preliminary information it appears the influence was not from his parents. I am well aware that he  could have easily  been influenced by the racial hatred spewed by so-called conservative leaders on the internet and from other news outlets, but one can’t help wonder in a state where the confederate flag was allowed to fly freely over the state’s capitol, what other symbols of racism, hatred and bigotry did the State of South Carolina allow to remain intact under the guise of heritage and history and by doing so influenced this young man to commit mass murder at the age of 21.

Leaders in St. Petersburg, Mayor Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Tomlin, businessman Bill Edwards, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, School Board member Rene Flowers, Pastor Clarence Williams, Pastor Louis Murphy etc., you all must begin to ask yourselves: If I don’t deal with the issue of race relations in the dominion I have influence over, could my bottom line, whatever that may be, be impacted and have similar or worse consequences than we experienced in Charleston, S. C.?

If your answer to yourself is yes, it is not only essential that you’ll lead these discussions, it is imperative that you all work collaboratively to carve out a framework for a discussion on race relations that defines your collective bottom line.

The core value of acceptance and diversity is allowing people to be who they are, unfortunately that even means if your choice is to be a racist. The focus has to shift to a common goal that is hopefully centered on everyone who lives in Pinellas County regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs having the same opportunities and access that lead to a great quality of life.

~ Maria L. Scruggs

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