Tolerance is for cowards. That was the considered recent opinion of ATT CEO Randall Stephenson. Echoing Eric Holder’s infamous Nation of Cowards remarks, the executive exhorted his employees to engage in the candid discussions of race that would be subsequently used as grounds for termination of its white participants. Hey, no one said this would be pleasant. It's a difficult, tough issue.
Not only did Stephenson break from business etiquette in talking candidly about a social/political issue before the company, he volunteered himself to lead by initiative, saying, “it’s a difficult, tough issue. It’s not pleasant to discuss. It takes work, it takes time, it takes emotion. And you’re going to have to understand where the other one is coming from. But we have to start communicating. And if this is a dialogue that’s going to begin at AT&T, I feel like it probably ought to start with me.”
Courage, work, and emotion. These traits are why he is a heroic plainspoken CEO and you are a craven shitposter. For instance, you may yearn to publicly exclaim I oppose the Ku Klux Klan! but the penalties for doing so are simply too dire. Career ruination, media frenzy, and hate crime prosecutions all conspire to keep anti (white)-racists either silent or resolutely anonymous. It is into this void men like Stonewall Stephenson brace against the pitiless rightist regime. Though if it weren’t for the unanimous sympathetic support of government, business, media, and academia, I doubt even he could have summoned the courage to take this stand.
Though Stephenson has more allies than he knows. A great deal of candid dialogue occurs in this forum and many others like it. I have to presume such venues offer an ideal example of the honest discussions Randall Stephenson envisions taking place throughout his company. So it’s gratifying to imagine how well-received our work must be in the ATT board room.
Stephenson based his speech around the ways that hearing a close friend’s recent speech challenged him to take a closer look at the issues. The friend, who is African American, was speaking to a church following the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and protests thereafter.
He addressed the specific ways discrimination has impacted his life. Stephenson passed along many of them.
“I will be honest with you, when I watched this video, I was really ashamed that this was all new information to me,” he said.
You’ll note this process is much how hate crimes within the judiciary work: indulge the blacks and indict the whites. Justice is blind, but she ain’t racist. But I do wonder if Stephenson will also speak with the fatherless children of executed police, or at least Brian Ogle…once he regains the faculty of speech. Or perhaps the suffering of these people are also “all new information.” A bit too new to focus on at the moment, one presumes.
Though a man crafty enough to summit corporate America isn’t incapable of absorbing new ideas; just ones that would be criticized by the media. And if you don’t quickly comprehend which new ideas are permissible to embrace and which are not, then your chances of being called courageous in the New York Times drop precipitously.
A key element of intellectual courage is being able to draw proper analogies that show reporters you know precisely where the boundaries of bravery lie. Consider these CEO-caliber examples.
I have always been somewhat confused by some of Chris’ views. And now I’ve gotta tell ya, I get his anger. When somebody responds to a Black Lives Matter protest by saying “all lives matter,” Stephenson said. He would then go on to offer a resounding defense of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When a parent says, ‘I love my son,’ you don’t say, ‘What about your daughter?’ When we walk or run for breast cancer funding and research, we don’t say, ‘What about prostate cancer?’ When the president says, ‘God bless America,’ we don’t say, ‘Shouldn’t God bless all countries?’,” said Stephenson. “And when a person struggling with what’s been broadcast on our airwaves says, ‘black lives matter,’ we should not say ‘all lives matter’ to justify ignoring the real need for change.”
I imagine those BLM analogies play well with the 85 IQ cohort, though it’s all a bit chalky to swallow once you round the top of the bell curve. That’s because they’re obviously inapt to anyone living outside the marketing department. Consider his cancer example above.
When we walk or run for breast cancer funding and research, we don’t say, ‘What about prostate cancer?’
There’s several reasons we don’t do that. One reason is that the modern social milieu isn’t already mobilized to combat breast cancer across the entire animal kingdom to the conscious and utter exclusion of prostate cancer. Another is that we don’t call prostate cancer fundraisers a Hate march. We don’t shriek metastasis nazi! at those who advocate awareness of malignant prostates. We don’t put sneer quotes around only one branch of oncology: Mr. Smith, the psychiatrist tells me you’re concerned about your so-called ‘prostate cancer.’ We don’t conduct workshops on Prostate privilege. Hollywood doesn’t feature an annual release schedule of breast cancer hagiographies along with an equal slate of films intended to incite the murder of prostate cancer sufferers. And no physicians disapprovingly tut-tut unhappy victims of prostate cancer by extolling the virtues of “cellular diversity.” To put it so bluntly that even a company president could understand: they retort “all lives matter” because white lives alone do not.
For these reasons, and others, Mr. Stephenson’s analogies fail like a Congolese space program.
Though analogies always work best when your audience is predisposed to the message. And since ATT has a workforce that looks like
America Brazil, the resulting applause was lavish.
According to ATT’s 2015 report on Diversity and Inclusion, people of color comprise 43% of ATT’s total workforce, including about 36% within management positions and 49% on the front line.
Only 57% to go until perfect diversity. Though undoubtedly some of the rapturous response reported at the conclusion of his remarks came from those tenth of the world’s population we call “the majority.” I’m sure the CEO could conjure another outstanding analogy for a claque of barren cube-maids cheering their own racial subordination. Perhaps he could incorporate a PowerPoint visual of Martel or Sobieski’s men littering their corpses on the battlefield to defend Europe with the caption of: Cowards.
But to be fair, Martel wasn’t all that tolerant either. And maybe this is Stephenson’s subtle subtext.
Tolerance is for cowards,” he said. “Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and to not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged. Do not tolerate each other. Work hard, move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”
Do not tolerate each other…move into uncomfortable territory. I think the ancient kings would grasp his message clearly.