Why Should I Care?
Rochester ranks high on yet another undesirable list about segregation in the United States.
Let’s say I’m a white suburbanite – maybe Fairport – and a small-business owner. Why would I read that article? There’s enough depressing news on a broad range of issues already. Besides, this is one I can’t really do anything about. And I just have to be honest here: it doesn’t really affect me. I live in a suburb where this just isn’t a problem. There are a couple of Black families here and they seem to be doing fine, blending in at school, etc. This is one for the city folks to figure out for themselves, maybe starting with a look at how they raise their kids, how they spend money, how they dress or behave.
I mean, strictly in the interest of self-interest, why pay attention?
Here are some questions I might ponder:
I have maybe 15-20 spots in my company that are fairly low-skill, low-paying jobs:
- What does it cost my business to be dealing with constant turnover and vacant spots, constant interviewing, constant training of new hires?
- What if potential employees can’t get to my business using public transportation?
- What if so many of those applying lack the fundamental skills in math since they received a terrible education in a broken system?
- What if some of the people I’ve hired have left because they found the culture demeaning, racially toxic? What if I was blind to the fact that this is why they left? What’s the probability that this will be repeated in the future?
- What impact does it have if my people are preoccupied with whether their landlord is about to evict them – to convert to an upscale condo?
- What if, while they’re working on my equipment, they’re distracted – dreading a call from their child’s school, or from the dicey day-care provider they’ve been forced to rely on? Or worse, dreading a call from the police?
Say I have a couple of openings for higher-skill positions:
- What if the city school system hasn’t produced people with the skills to handle the complexities of the job? What does it cost me to have to recruit outside of Rochester – flying in people for interviews, paying moving costs, etc.?
- Suppose a qualified candidate from another city, doing due diligence, scopes out Rochester as a home for her/his family? What if they read all the studies like this latest one where Rochester is high on the “shame list”, where indications are that it’s a city in decline, with racial tensions high, with a deeply divided and segregated populace?
- What if they prefer to live in a city vs. suburb, but THIS city looks very risky? Most especially, why would they dare to entrust their children to a crumbling school system?
- And how likely is it that all those negatives tidbits will be offset by a couple of Chamber-of-Commerce-type pro-ROC propaganda pamphlets?
And then what about the hundreds of city people who trek out to my town every day – drive our plows, staff our stores, serve in our kids’ cafeterias, tend to my parents in their assisted-living facility?
- How well can they function if they’re underpaid, passed over for promotions, stressed about finances, and about safety in their neighborhoods?
- What is the impact of my continuing to vote for politicians whom I can rely on to block affordable or subsidized housing that might benefit these city people, might make life more manageable, might shrink their work/life stress, might enable them to serve me better?
Never even mind what my professed religion says about how to treat “others” – you know, the theological/moral argument. If I operate just on self-interest as I perceive it, in some paradoxical sense, their well-being is intimately enmeshed with my own well-being, and with my family’s future. I ignore their peril at my own peril.
Back to myself: I was speaking recently with a business leader who lives in an upscale home in a Rochester suburb. He’s recently become involved in learning about racism, his own participation in it, and how he can influence positive change, and has become an advocate for diversity and inclusion within his own company. I asked him why he’s doing this. Quickly and emphatically he stated, “For my kids and grandkids!” He can see clearly that if this tension and inequality continue, they will inherit the inevitable consequences. He’s determined to do what he can in his spheres of influence so that doesn’t happen. What I heard in him was a depth of self-interest that extends well beyond a narrow selfishness.
“Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People” Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald; NYT bestseller
“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” Dr. Robin DiAngelo. I’ve recommended this before, but it is so worth repeating.