as Johnson when I thanked him and asked what made him select me as his successor. I’ll never forget the reply: “Because I know you won’t ever forget you’re black, and that you’ll take care of me,” he said. “You will take care of all of us.”
Johnson was speaking of all African Americans who are fighting for their share of opportunities in the business world. He was talking about our responsibility to help each other survive and succeed in the white- dominated business world, no matter where we are.
Several years ago, I had an experience that is still quite common for African Americans everywhere, even those who have penetrated the highest levels of the white business world. I was turned down for membership in the Wing Foot Golf Club. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
My sponsor for membership was an executive vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank, where I had done more than a little business over the years. He was more torn up over my rejection than I was, to tell you the truth. I felt I was turned down because I was perceived as being too vocal on issues affecting African Americans. I had publicly chastised a bank in my home in Westchester County, New York, for redlining, and at a United Way speaking engagement I had chastised local dubs for not having black members.
I believe I also ranked the membership committee at Wing Foot when I told them that I would try to get as many of my friends inside their gates as possible. Of course, that’s exactly what all the white members do, but when an African American said he would endeavor to do the same thing, their response was “No, thank you very much.”
Being black means that if you’re fortunate enough to get a seat on the board of Chrysler, or the Boy Scouts of America for that matter, you make sure you do what you can, whenever you can, to represent the interests of the entire African American community. It means that if you’re on the board of American Airlines, as I am, you act as a responsible advocate for minority hiring and promotions, and you work to see that the executives in the corporation understand the black consumer market.
Let me illustrate for you once again why leveraging our resources is vital to our survival, not just in business but in this society. When Microsoft Corp. launched Windows 95, it was done with a $600 million marketing and advertising blitz aimed at the consumer markets in 22 countries, but only the white consumer markets. You and I apparently didn’t count.
If you don’t have a problem with that, you should. Even if you have never touched the keyboard of a computer, which would be career and intellectual suicide in itself, you cannot afford to be marginalized as unworthy of the attentions of Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue. That would make you the modern version of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
REWARDS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Too often, corporate America benefits from the money spent by the African American consumer without respecting or making any commitment to that market. If they get our money without working for it, why should they change their ways? They won’t, unless you and I demand it.