Tag Archives: Lifting as we Climb

A SLICK SURVIVAL STRATEGY: WHAT APPLE VICE-PRESIDENT DENISE YOUNG SMITH’S COMMENTARY ON DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IS AN INTERESTING SURVIVAL STRATEGY THAT MANY AFRICAN-AMERICANS USE

As an African-American male who is also a first-generation collegian and one of the few to reach the heights of educational achievement in earning a Doctorate of Philosophy, I can attest to the fact that the path I have traversed has been largely devoid of others who look like anyone in my family.

When I reflect on the alluded to path, it is in many ways astounding how few of my peers matriculated from high school to college, not to mention how many were “weeded out” by various methods when it was time to pursue graduate studies or attend a desired professional school. Put simply; from my, and every other “minority”, the stony road we traveled was the antithesis of diverse as it was absent black or brown faces, regardless of gender, political leanings, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation. So, I am confident that you can imagine my surprise when Denise Young Smith, a black woman who serves as Apple’s vice-president of diversity and inclusion revealed this week that if I knew what to look for, I would have realized that the lily-white overwhelmingly male environments that I trudged through were the epitome of diversity.

During a recent speech at the One Young World Summit, held in Bogotá, Colombia, Young Smith took individuals such as myself to task for our belief that there is little diversity to be found in a room filled with nothing but white males. According to the Apple executive, “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.” In many ways, it is frightening to consider that a person who knows so little about diversity and inclusion holds such an important position at Apple. I am saddened to report that prior to her current post, Young Smith served the company as its vice-president of Human Resources.

In the alternative universe that Young Smith has created to maintain her employment, matters of diversity and inclusion have devolved into being unique human experiences such as do you prefer U2 or the Rolling Stones, is your favorite flavor of ice cream Butter Cream or Vanilla, or do you prefer your pizza cut in slices or squares. According to Young Smith, “Diversity is the human experience. I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.” Quite possibly the most befuddling aspect of all is that Denise Young Smith must have dealt with these issues during her ascension within Apple, a company whose workforce is, you guessed it, predominantly white and male; these numbers are fairly standard for Silicon Valley companies.

In many ways, Young Smith’s failure to understand the seriousness of diversity reveals a common tendency of a cadre of black professionals who consciously choose to serve as obstructionists motivated by a selfish strategy that betrays the very spirit of the motto of the black club women’s movement of “Lifting as we climb.” Instead of helping others during their ascension, figures such as Young Smith have implemented a strategy of feigning ignorance regarding racial matters and issues of inclusion that they pray will aid their survival in Fortune 500 companies. Sadly, Young Smith shares that she has been “playing this role for a very long time.”

Negroes of Young Smith’s ilk should be ashamed of themselves, however, one must possess a moral compass to come to such realizations on their own; instead, it is shifting political winds and public condemnation that births contrition in such persons. In reality, their contrition, which always occurs in the form of a public apology is merely another layer of their desperate attempt to stabilize their current employment status. Hence, I am absolutely certain that Young Smith will apologize after the public backlash regarding her controversial speech. Unfortunately for those seeking a career within a Fortune 500 Company, such individuals have learned how to expertly navigate shifting public opinion and always live to obstruct the path of others for another day. I guess when we really think about it, by sharing her deplorable thoughts Young Smith is displaying a form of diversity, it is just so unfortunate that it is the kind that no one should aspire to.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

HOW A GROUP OF EIGHTH-GRADERS FROM ARNOLD MIDDLE SCHOOL REMINDED ME OF WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to growing weary while performing the mentally straining and emotionally exhausting heavy lifting required to provide the next generation of African-Americans even a remote possibility of succeeding in a society where their inferiority is an absolute given. There are periodic moments when one’s will to continue this never-ending fight is nearly extinguished; without fail, a symphony of doubt, frustration, and questions regarding the seeming futility of the struggle appear as the weary blues. The only balm to the mental and emotional exhaustion mentioned above is the occurrence of some event that reminds you that it has not all been in vain. Unfortunately, the alluded to validation cannot be ordered on command; instead it arrives via unexpected sources at opportune moments.

Recently I was approached regarding my willingness to aid The Collegiate 100 — a subsidiary of the 100 Black Men of America — an organization of extremely impressive African-American collegians that are simultaneously positioning themselves for success while lifting others as they climb the ladder of success, via addressing a group of 8th Graders from Arnold Middle School during a scheduled campus event. Mentors selected these 8th Graders for a host of reasons. During my adolescence, they would have been labeled “at-risk youth,” a term that indicated more about environs than intellectual capabilities and prowess. I knew such a group very well as years ago I carried a similar label. I accepted the assignment without hesitation.

As usual, I arrived early to the 9:30 event and busied myself researching topics for future blog postings, however, slightly before the scheduled start time, a cadre of students, the majority of them currently enrolled in one of my History courses arrived and began their preparations for the young scholars’ arrival. Within minutes our “guests of honor” arrived, took their assigned seat, and were listening to my presentation regarding issues such as self-responsibility, planning, and the development of a familial educational legacy. Put simply; my address sought to inform these young people that they are the primary determinant of their success and the future of this entire nation was resting upon their broad and sturdy shoulders.

One of the promises that I made to myself as a student was that if ever provided the public speaking opportunities that I would never replicate the droning and draining lecture style of orators who operated out of an old authoritarian style of I lecture and you passively listen to my brillance. Put simply; such characters left no room for interaction with by the end of their address was an auditorium full of inattentive listeners. Hence, I always consider it essential that I interact with my audience via a “Question and Answer” segment.

As previously mentioned, the desperately needed jolt that re-energizes those who have grown weary of the Herculean task of uplifting Black America invariably comes at an opportune moment from unexpected sources. I am proud to relate that I received a much-needed jolt from this group of 8th Graders who dared to betray a steely silence that always accompanies persons of their age by peer pressure. To my delight, this group engaged me in an unusual manner that simultaneously displayed their brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and previous exposure to success formulas resting on personal accountability. Their mentors are to be applauded as these children demonstrated an unusual ability to answer an array of issues presented to them in a manner that betrayed their youth. Their superior intellect was displayed at every turn except when I queried “Where do you plan to be five years from now?”

After several questions regarding by background, my alma mater, the degrees I have earned and books that I have written, most were shocked to learn that I was a first-generation collegian. As expected, the conversation turned toward questions surrounding why they should attend a Historically Black College or University.

The question, poised by a brilliant young lady on the left side of the auditorium, was a particularly piercing one of “Since you have been to a white university and now work at a Historically Black University, why should we come to an H.B.C.U.?” Although I have much love for my alma mater, THE Ohio State University, to the best of my ability I explained to this attentive audience that at a place such as Prairie View A & M University “You will not only be invited into, but also joining and embraced by an esteemed tradition of black thinkers, educators, and professionals who are dedicated to aiding you in traveling down a road that they created for your success. You matter mightily at this place from the moment that you make the decision to enter and well-beyond your exit. You are going to find that we will nurture you, challenge you, and guide you every step of the way as you pursue your dreams, goals, and aspirations. At this place, we are serious about producing productive people.”

By the end of our interaction, the vast majority of these individuals had expressed their intention to become Prairie View Panthers and vowed to keep in touch during their high school tenure. As I gathered my belongings and prepared to exit the venue, one young man rushed up to me and related the following, “I thought about where I will be five years from now. I am going to be sitting in your History class right here at PVAMU.” I could do nothing other than smile at him and respond, “Sir, I’m looking forward to it. And I truly mean that.”

As I ended my exchange with this obviously brilliant young man, one of the chaperones for this youth group approached me and stated the following. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of your students.” I searched my mental Rolodex for him, yet came up empty. He continued, “I looked different back then. I had a big Afro and gold fronts (teeth). However, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me. I am assuming an Assistant Principal position next week.” I could do nothing but laugh at the fantastic news and responded, “From gold fronts to Assistant Principal?” We both shared a hearty laugh at the development.

One thing was sure, as I exited the building, I knew that these young people had made an indelible impact on me; an impact that re-charged my emotional state and simultaneously reminded me of why I do the work that I do.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III