"token black guy" of the boardroom?

The Bermudian government has proposed legislation that would give the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality (CURE) enforcement power over the percentage of Black Bermudians in management positions.  Would such legislation inadvertently do more damage than good?  Would such a policy make it more difficult for hard working Black Bermudians to get ahead?  Could it possibly create a culture of entitlement and potential resentment towards Black Bermudians?  Could such legislation ultimately lead to the creation of a “token black guy” of the boardroom?

The above clip is from the movie “Not another teen movie”, which basically was a comedic parody of teen oriented American movies created in the 90s.  This particular scene outlines the concept of the ‘token black guy’ which is the stigma of American teen movies that feature a sole black character whose only purpose is to make comments like “damn” and “that is whack”, but otherwise stay out of the storyline.  It is this particular scene that comes to mind when reading of the proposed CURE legislation.  While the intentions of the legislation are honourable, could it cause more problems than it hopes to solve?

What would happen to the self-esteem of a hard working black Bermudian who begins to wonder if the promotion he received is largely due to the color of skin as opposed to his hard work?  Would he continue to work hard or begin to doubt the merits of his efforts by wondering if he had truly earned his place in the management realm?

What would happen to those black Bermudians who realize that they do not need to work hard to get ahead?  Would the potential for advancement based upon the color of their skin give them a sense of entitlement to protest at any advancement of non-black individuals on the basis of equality policies over merit?  Would it result in unqualified individuals being advanced into arenas in which they are not suited; essentially putting them there to serve merely as a placeholder or ‘token’ and not a valued member of the team?

Would advancement of black Bermudians above other harder working employees on the basis of race create a rift between black and non-black employees?  Could this promote undesirable resentment towards black Bermudians?   Could such a stigma cause the efforts of hard working black Bermudians to be ignored and potentially make it much harder for black Bermudians to be taken seriously?  Could this do more to damage the efforts and ambitions of those who hold the desire to get ahead purely on their own merit?

The government’s intentions to propose legislation to offer a quick fix to our racial woes is an honourable one, but will it ultimately do more harm than good?  Will it make it harder for hard working Black Bermudians to get ahead?  Could it nurture a culture of entitlement and possible further racial division?  Is it likely that we will see the “token black guy” of the boardroom whose sole purpose is to stay silent and add little to the conversation?  Is this the kind of advancement we’re truly looking for in order to achieve racial equality?

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21 thoughts on “"token black guy" of the boardroom?

  1. If such a gov policy were put in place, would it mean that a Bermuda Airline would have to promote a “token black guy’ as Captain during start-up…?
    To my mind, such a policy would quickly plant seeds that I suggest in time will ensure a very bitter harvest!
    No one should be promoted because of the colour of their skin, and the reverse must ring true!
    If Gov wants to ensure that talanted, bright, hardworking and ambitious young black men make it in corporate Bermuda, then stop playing with education and start pushing 5 year old’s to achieve all that they can become… make univesity affordable to those with the brains and skills, but not the $$.
    I sure hope this proposed policy dies a natural death, becuase it will certainly kill the goose that continues to lay the golden eggs we all depend on. That is how I see it.
    Capt. ERP

  2. Unfortunatley the government is quick to implement “solutions” that only create greater long term problems.
    There has got to be a better solution like maybe ensuring that businesses have goal specific training programs in place for the promotion of “Bermudians”. I also agree with C ERP’s comments.
    Have we not learned from other band aid solutions already attempted like the hustle truck……
    The Intl business sector is not one where we can afford to mess it up because if we start scaring them away the trickle down effect to EVERY aspect of Bermudian living will be devastating to say the least.

  3. i agree that fixing public education is one of the right long term solutions – but the govt. is proposing this legislation more as a deterrent – there is no one magic bullet solution to the problem of fiscal and professional inequity in bda – like any endeavour in life it takes a combination of things to bring about a desired result – sure the hustle truck won’t cure what is a very complex employment issue but it does move toward something positive. read Malcolm Gladwell’s book the Tipping Point in which he discusses the “broken windows theory” to understand how seemingly little solutions like the hustle truck and adding a black executive here and there in the long run can have great effect on a larger issue.

  4. Vanz,
    Glad to read your comment.
    Largely you are correct with regards to small fixes however as I mentioned in the above piece, I fear it may do damage the efforts of hardworking black Bermudians.
    With regards to the Tipping Point, I’ve had it on my mind for a while to write a piece on it and Gladwell’s other book Blink.
    The basic premise being that our focus needs to be on 1. education, 2. promotion. One core thing I see is that we fail to recoginize and promote successful blacks in our community.
    One of the core thoughts I took away from Blink was that of black law students asked to identify their colour before writing a test. Doing so caused their results to plummet simply because of the negative stereotypes perpetuated in modern society with regards to black achievement. However, when a similar group of students was asked to identify their colour after having spent 30 minutes reviewing the stories and biographies of the many successful black individuals in American history, they scored much better.
    Thus, what we desperately need is more promotion of successful role models, which is lacking in Bermuda as well as abroad. This is one reason why I see Tiger Woods as a huge success and I’m hoping gov will use it to it’s full advantage by paying him to do a tour of schools or give a talk to young Bermudians about hard work and how he achieved success.

  5. My response to Vanz is to ask a few questions: What do you think is more damaging to real black advancement/empowerment and why–
    1) Smaller numbers of black executives, or 2) Larger numbers of black executives with a higher proportion of unqualified individuals?
    I would also ask: If your justification for following the #2 course is because you feel there is discrimination, aren’t there other (better) ways to address it? What options do you see and why are they inadequate?

  6. sadly racism has done a number on many people’s psyches, there is one stat that shows that simply if a blk student is administered an exam by a white proctor he/she will test 5% below their average – whereas if that same student is administered a test by a blk proctor they will test 5% above their average – that’s a difference of 10% just based on the colour of skin of the person giving the test. all that is to say often in fighting racism that we are dealing with the sub conscious so yes having a + figure like tiger get his msg out to kids would do wonders.
    re; the blk exec issue – i don’t think its an either or issue. many studies have shown that white execs are allowed to fail and learn on the job at higher rates than blks – i think that it’s matter of opportunity – that’s teh reason why blk men like 50cent, diddy, russell simmons, pharrell etc make such an easy transition from the streets to the boardroom – opportunity.
    this “Larger numbers of black executives with a higher proportion of unqualified individuals?” if allowed to fail and learn in the job like many young white execs would soon become Larger numbers of black executives with a higher proportion of qualified individuals?

  7. Thanks for answering, even if only partially, my questions Vanz.
    Could you please point me in the direction of the study you reference, I’d like to read it.
    I think everyone can agree that positive messages for kids are excellent.
    Also, I am a bit curious how you came to your opinion regarding whites being given more opportunity to fail in the corporate environment. Could you elaborate on the basis for this statement?
    I think you make it clear that you feel there is not the same opportunity for blacks. If that is true I think most people would support measures to address it, although reasonable minds can differ on what measures are appropriate.
    With that in mind, can you elaborate on why you believe other methods of remediation, such as anti-discrimination laws (either present or revised)are inadequate or unfixable such that quotas are necessary?

  8. Winn-Dixie Stores – $33 million;
    Shoney’s – $132.5 million;
    Texaco – $176.1 million;
    Coca-Cola – $192.5 million.
    these figures are the amount of money each firm has paid in recent years to settle complaints of racial discrimination in terms of corporate advancement of blk workers. and this is just a handful. that means legally these companies have admitted to holding back blk executives based in nothing but race. we can safely assume that the people who benefit from this are white execs.
    presently White men hold 95% to 97% of the high-level corporate jobs. And that’s with affirmative action programs in place. Imagine how low figures would be without affirmative action.
    now the reasons for these figures are either 1.) white men are just smarter and more effective than all other demos in america or 2.) that historically white men have been given more opportunity.
    reverse example
    in hip hop – out of a hundred major rappers, eminem is pretty much the only major white rapper – is it because blk rappers are so much better? no. it’s because the rap world is a blk world so most people who dictate the direction of this world are blk and they hang out w/ mostly blks etc. also, the idea of blks being better rappers based on race is so ingrained that even white execs will dismiss great white rappers and give lesser skilled blk rappers a record deal.
    i see the same in corporate america – white execs will get chances because the culture is white and because it’s ingrained that blks are not as good.
    but neither of those are based on science simply forms of nepotism and racism

  9. I think you are right Vance. Although I would question whether there are actually that many white kids who want to be rappers versus black kids.Not sure.
    Also, are you related to the nut case with the same name who posts on other blogs? You sound far too rational and thoughtful to be the same person, so it must be someone impersonating you.

  10. jJ,
    Please refrain from making defamatory remarks such as “nut case” and try to choose other words to express your differences of opinion with regards to another individual and their comments.
    To my knowledge, the vanz here is the individual who posts under the same name on other blogs.

  11. if the conversation is rational i will be rational – or as that classic blaxploitation line goes, “we can either be gentlemen about this or get into some ni**er sh*t.”

  12. I just recently hired someone to groom as my successor. He’s Bermudian. He’s black. He’s also highly skilled. The last point is what got him his job – not the first two.
    How could I possibly motivate him if he thought the only reason he was employed was his country of origin or colour of his skin? If laws like this pass, it would be impossible to convince him that his skills, training, and work ethic are what got him the job.
    The government keeps trying to make the boardrooms of Bermuda reflect the demographics of Bermuda. This is flawed logic – the demographic makeup of the levels of senior management should reflect the demographic makeup of the countries from which senior management is recruited. In international business, senior management is comprised of the best and the brightest in the industry – not the best and brightest of Bermuda. The fact remains, the rest of the industry operates in areas where the racial makeup is decidedly less black than Bermuda. Of course the racial makeup will reflect this.
    The utopian objective of having the upper layers of international business reflect the demographics of bermuda is an impossible goal.

  13. JJ,
    I don’t have as much of a problem with language itself. I simply want to avoid any forms of personal attacks that could lead into back and forth arguements that could potentially force me into policing the site or turning off comments.

  14. It seems so easy for the Govt to suggest legislation because that is the easy route.
    If the Govt believes that companies are discriminating by hiring/promoting people other than blacks, then go after those companies.
    Do not tar everyone with the same brush and impose yet another burden on business by introducing legislation that is across the board.
    Out of interest, will “local” companies have to recruit a certain number of white people to give the workforce a correct ethnic balance?

  15. Vanz,
    Hope you had a good holiday. I wanted to comment now on our discussion from my perspective. Firstly, it would have been more helpful for me to understand your point of view had you actually answered my questions instead of discussing tangents which, frankly, obscured the issue more than they furthered our discussion of it.
    Although I can’t comment fully on the exam study you reference or your claim that 95% of corporate america is discriminatory because the basis for those figures either hasn’t been identified at all or hasn’t been identified sufficiently for me to locate it. If you get a link or can give me more details on the 60 minutes report I’d appreciate it.
    This is, in fact, part of the problem though—citing information which may or may not be true without a basis for us to evaluate. Because you haven’t identified it sufficiently for me to find it I how can I accept it as true? Based on what you have cited from the exam study, it is irrelevant for our discussion. Unless you are saying the testing proctor is discriminating against the student (which is not what you seem to say) it has nothing to do with denying opportunity to anyone but rather deals with the internal psychology of race. Although an interesting and important topic, it has only a tangential relationship to what we are talking about, i.e. quotas and their impact on the workplace. That is because the denial of opportunity, if any, would be instituted by the person themselves rather than by a third party.
    Likewise, your reference to 95% of corporate america being discriminatory sounds wildly inflated. You haven’t identified a basis for this statement which makes me further question its credibility as well as the existence of any study. Instead you responded about rappers which takes us further away from the original topic. Although you cite several high dollar judgments against American companies I think it is quite a stretch to assume that means 95% of businesses are affirmatively racist.
    You may or may not be aware that in the US there are two types of actionable claims for discrimination. 1) Affirmative (traditional) discrimination and 2) disparate impact discrimination. The latter involves no conscious efforts to discriminate but instead relates to neutral policies which have unequal effects and is a much murkier area subject to various interpretations and defensible if the distinction is based on an objective business requirement. You are surely aware that the US is an extremely litigious environment and that 90% of cases settle regardless of the validity of the underlying claims simply to avoid the expensive and public litigation.
    Even viewing your argument in the most favorable light (i.e. that each of the companies was indeed affirmatively racist), which is generous, it only tells us two things: 1) The system works because each company got nailed for quite a lot of money, and 2) If the system works and it produces lots of money, everyone with a claim out there will be likely to pursue it. If everyone with a claim is filing it and winning lots of money then we can’t assume every company is behaving like the 5 that got nailed. In fact, if we assume anything, we must assume those who have not been sued are free of discrimination because there is such an incentive to file suit if discrimination exists. Therefore I strongly question your 95% number.
    Further, the United States is not Bermuda. There are significant historical, cultural, and demographic differences. The US has never had a non-white majority to date, it has never had one (not to mention many) non-white leaders, the makeup of its economy is different, the competition for jobs and scholarships is immensely higher in the US. I could go on, but you get the point.
    The differences in the economics of the US and Bermuda are some of the most significant. The Bermuda economy is skewed to knowledge worker jobs, i.e. those where the individual needs to be highly educated or trained. Think about it—accountants, lawyers, IT professionals—these are all jobs where you need to go away, study, work, acquire those skills before coming home. This shift has occurred at the same time public education has taken a nosedive in quality. This is why we are all focused on education Vanz and why quotas won’t work. If you put someone unqualified in a job that requires skills you can only get by going away to study you are never going to see success and it will undermine those who have invested in themselves.
    We also can’t ignore the population size and demographics. To expect a population of 60,000 to produce numerous high level executives for companies drawing human resources from around the globe is presumptuous at best regardless of colour. Therefore if we are going to compare colour we need to do so using only Bermudians not Black Bermudians vs. White Bermudians and White Expats. There probably is a disproportionate split there which needs to be addressed, but it will be smaller than a flat black/white split and more representative of the problem.
    Which brings us to the original discussion of “What is the best way to empower black bermuda?”
    My personal opinion is that education is the foundation of everything. It gives you options. It gives you self-esteem. It’s something that, once you accomplish it, can never be taken away. To me that IS empowerment and that is what all Bermudians, but especially black Bermudians, need to realize and embrace.
    To really address the issues this island faces we need to have higher standards in the public education system, we need to work our butts off as teachers and parents to make sure our kids meet and exceed those standards, we need to have a fully functional student loan program and we need to encourage our kids to go to the best schools they can get into. This will benefit everyone, but will disproportionately benefit black Bermudians who represent the largest demographic of public education customers.
    Unless we start valuing education, and believe me we don’t right now, we will always lag behind. Setting up a quota system is the worst possible thing we can do. We are already seeing the outsourcing occurring from the restrictive immigration policies (which act as a quota-lite type system). The more restrictive and artificial the system, the worse it’s side effects will be. Fix the biggest problem first and then we can see what else needs to be done.

  16. re; the stats and studies i referenced were all found magazines like blk enterprise and ebony – but google racism in corporate america and you will find many of the studies and stats i mentioned – are they all accurate? it’s hard to tell. is the ingredients list on the pkged food we buy accurate? having been educated in the US for almost a decade – i believe they’re true.
    re; education – it’s a key but not the key to best empower black bermuda. back in the early 80s many of the bdan students achieving the most o levels were blk bdans – 25 years later those educational achievements seemed to have only produced really smart civil servants – where are the business’ that those educational achievements should be bringing. i went to 2 blk universities and have soem very successful ex classmates – as much as education played a part in their success – teh most important part of their success was convincing themselves that despite the obvious racist (and other) obstacles, they would succeed anyway because they saw that another blk person (or woman etc) did it. sometimes the existence of that token blk guy inspires many blk students to want to achieve.

  17. Vanz,
    Silencedogood’s point is that you should do the legwork and provide a few links rather than just suggesting that we google it for ourselves. If you’re making the case, it’s your duty to support it.
    “teh most important part of their success was convincing themselves that despite the obvious racist (and other) obstacles”
    That is the number one point. If success were easy, everyone would achieve it. Success involves hard work and fighting against whatever obsticals are thrown at you.
    “they would succeed anyway because they saw that another blk person (or woman etc) did it. sometimes the existence of that token blk guy inspires many blk students to want to achieve. ”
    I absolutely refute this. It is the existance of positive role models to worked hard to reach the top that will inspire black students, not token black guys.
    Tiger Woods is an inspiration because he busted his ass day in and day out throughout his childhood to become the absolute very best he possible could.
    What if we instead instituted “racial equality” in golf because there are a disproportionate number of whites, subsequently giving Tiger a special handicap because he’s black. How inspirational would he be then?
    What Bermuda needs to be doing is finding every inspirational black worker and putting them in the spotlight.
    I’d find everyone from black CEO’s to entrepreneurs, to atheletes to even just regular joes who have achieved their dreams and I would bring the focus to them through an intensive promotional campaign.
    At every bus stop you’d see a lifesized poster of one of the individuals and their story. On street walls. Ads on tv. Anything and everything that would help promote the image that blacks can and will achieve if they put their minds to it.
    Yet, ask yourself this: What is the PLP TRULY focusing on promoting?
    http://www.theroyalgazette.com/siftology.royalgazette/Article/article.jsp?articleId=7d7922f3003000d§ionId=60

  18. Vanz,
    In addition to Dennis’ comments, I would ask “Why does a role model have to be the same race?” I ask that in all seriousness.
    I’m white and have not had either a privileged or unprivileged upbringing and have spent a great deal of time outside Bermuda (primarily the US and some in canada where it may surprise you to learn that being white and male was seen as a negative in many situations such as the admissions process), yet I don’t feel compelled to only draw inspiration from those who look like me. I look often to the Jews and Asians as groups I can personally learn from. Both have been historically oppressed and have been enormously successful as a group in spite of that. Even Malcolm X, during his racially combative period before he converted to the true Islam, appreciated the ability of those groups to keep money within their communities and use that as a springboard for success and tried to replicate it.
    Should I not admire and learn from the teachings of MLK, Mandela, Confucsious, Ghandi, Mohammad, or Jesus (depending on who you talk to), or even Bermuda’s own Lois Browne-Evans just because their skin is a different colour? Shoot, go listen to Bob Marley’s “War” and take the words at face value, not coloured by black and white.
    Isn’t that the strenght of diversity? The ability to learn from one another’s point of view and embrace those aspects which make us stronger, better, fairer?
    I’m honestly open to hearing what you have to say and changing my mind, but I think you need to re-evaluate some of your assumptions and recognize your natural biases (which we all have) and how that is impacting your world view. That’s a difficult thing to do, but we both have to be willing to do so to really get past soundbites that politicians use as a means of getting and keeping power and see some real progress.

  19. i’m in the middle of some deadlines so i may ramble but i will rtn and answer both questions in depth – as far as the stats – u r right – i will do the leg work and post links in the future.
    re; blk role models – oprah winfrey is one of the most + forces on many levels in our time blk or white – oprah has said what most inspired her growing up was seeing diana ross on tv – her glamour and the fact that at a time when blk women were rarely seen ion tv here was this dark skinned blk woman carrying herself like a queen – in reality ross was from the ghetto and sleeping w/ the boss and no more talented than a number of other blk female singers – regardless – her presence on tv was so powerful that it inspired a young blk girl to grow up and be oprah and make such powerful changes to so many lives around the world for all races
    growing up blk in bda – there were many circles where john swan was vilified as a sellout – as i got older and then meeting sir js i realized what a disservice that was because here was a successful blk man who had a blk company that hired smart blk people and made it possible 4 many blks to own there first homes but so many blk kids were discouraged to not admire him.
    i see the same with dr. brown – i wen to howard when dr. brown was on the board of trustees, i’ve met some of the powerful and truly “good guys” in american biz and politics who sing brown’s praises – brown in my mind is a gem yet like js many of us are persuaded to not trust him – (in the 80s it was – oh john swan builds such small houses on small plots of land to sell to blk people he’s pimping his own people, – one rumor had js being offered a charter to start a blk bank but turning it down cause he got paid off by the white banks) i see the same lies spread about dr. brown (cedar beams, secret deals, etc.) and again a blk role model is denied his chance to inspire without rumour
    and yes – it is about race – when the bulk of bdans in jail are blk and when the bulk of the real wealth is white – yes it will be about race.
    with usage of the internet as an info disrtibutor – all factions can spread their sides of things an it’s making some people nervous.
    my last point – what most drives me as a blk man personally is an old special issue of Esquire magazine that my family gave to me as a gift when i was growing up in bermuda – the issue listed the 10 most influential people in the world in everything from the arts to science to politics etc for the last century.
    my familiy, laverne, maxine et al said quite non chanlantly but seriously that in 10o hundred years when this next the next issue i realized that they wanted me and my bother to be in it – that is what drives me

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