Roz Brewer knows better than anyone that when you are a thought leader who advances change, you must be ready for darts to be thrown. For the backlash. For people feeling threatened and coming out of the woodwork making preposterous statements. Misrepresenting what you say.
She is the President and CEO of Sam's Club. And she's the first African American female to lead a division of Wal-mart.
But here's the strange thing, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that Brewer did not expect the statements she made on December 11th during her minimum wage interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow to cause her to be labeled a racist. Who would expect it?
Have you watched the interview? I mean really sat down and taken the 5 minutes and 47 seconds to watch it?!
If you have, then you know that the majority of the interview was about increasing wages for Sam's and Wal-mart employees. In case you haven't had a chance to watch it, HERE you go.
As the interview went on, Roz was asked what it would take to get more women, like her, into the corner offices of corporations across America. Her answer was solid. It starts at the top, she said, and it must be a priority. As she was wrapping up her point, here is what she said that caused such an uproar among some. This was the statement that caused people to label her a racist:
"Just today we met with a supplier and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian males. That was interesting. I decided not to talk about it directly with [the supplier's] folks in the room because there were actually no females, like, levels down. So I'm going to place a call to him."
Wait. Back up. Brewer's main point was that there were no females in the room on her supplier's team. She says, "...because there were actually no females, like, levels down..."
Now I realize I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I must be missing something. Merriam-Webster defines racist as "a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one's own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to others." And defines racism as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."
The fact of the matter was that all the people sitting across the table from Brewer that day were Caucasian males. How does that statement classify Brewer as a racist when she was clearly concerned in this situation with the fact that there were actually no females at the table. There were no people of color at that the table.
She wasn't suggesting that it was bad to have white men at the table. She was suggesting that a more diverse group would help her drive better business results and would afford women the opportunity to develop the skills to position them for success, including the C-suite if that was their aspiration.
None of that makes her anti-white. None of that classifies her as a racist.
And here is what Brewer said about diversity in that same interview:
"I demand it of my team," said Brewer, "Every now and then you have to nudge your partners. You have to speak up and speak out. And I try to use my platform for that. I try to set an example."
Her team is made up four Caucasians and four people of color. How does that make her a racist? How does that classify her as a racist?
I applaud Roz for saying what she said. I have always respected and appreciated her frankness and honesty. And I applaud Doug McMillon, Walmart's President and CEO, for speaking the truth and standing behind her.
But she wasn't even talking about race, people! She was talking about the lack of women in that situation. So boycotting Sam's Club and labeling Brewer a racist is simply preposterous.
But if you want to bring race into it, then here's the truth...
America is more demographically diverse than ever before. And it is causing the highest level of tension since the days when Martin Luther King, Jr. walked the face of this earth. Those of you who follow me have heard me make this statement before. America has not come to a place of peace as it relates to race. Just look at all the events of 2015 if you don't believe me.
America does not belong to white people. It does not. It belongs to ALL people. At its roots, our country belonged to people of color and to immigrants. In fact, America was brown before it was white.
Those who have labeled Brewer a racist and tweeted about boycotting Sam's Club over the past weeks have also shared sentiments that we need to "take America back." Back to what? To when?
To that I say NO. I say we need to bring America together and truly collaborate. Not go backwards. Those comments, those tweets, that divisiveness moves our country backward. Not forward.
The good thing about this backlash and misrepresentation of Brewer's comments is that it exposes America for its vulnerability. We are not united. If we want to be a world leader, if we want to be safe, if we want to contribute to the world, then we have to unite. Not divide. Comments such as those against Sam's Club and Brewer only serve to divide. If we are not careful, history will only repeat itself.
My grandmother used to say that the day is going to come when people would try and take us back to a time when minorities were suppressed. We have to choose to NOT allow that to happen. America is better than that. I want to believe that we are better than that.
Here's a news flash for ALL of us:
Diversity includes white people. It includes everyone. Brewer's mission is to make a more diverse workforce that represents the people she serves. Women. Men. People of color. White people.
When Howard Schultz and Mellody Hobson tried to start the conversation about race, the pushback was so loud that it stopped them. Now, when Brewer raises a point about the need for more women in the workplace at senior leadership levels, we get pushback. What the? I wish more CEOs would step out and talk about race, the workplace and the future of America.
It's time for all of us to find the courage to not just start the conversations but to finish them!
It's time for Americans - ALL Americans - to believe in equality and speak out with boldness. It is our God-given right to be treated as equals. Everyone deserves an opportunity for success. EVERYONE!