Playing With A Deck Of 52 Race Cards

Even as Donald Trump was temporarily pocketing the race card yesterday in favor of the proto-Mussolini card, the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank, Charles Scharf, created a firestorm when he explained that as far as minority hiring goes, the bank falls short because there is a “very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from.”

Now, to be clear, he most likely meant to say there is a “very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from … the lacrosse teams and Greek fraternities of B-level East Coast universities, where we pick up most of our middle management.” With that caveat, the statement is probably more true, though not more improved.

The bank later released a memorandum clarifying that “across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels. And there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.” Don’t blame Wells Fargo—all the banks are fighting for a VERY LIMITED NUMBER OF lacrosse players.

When I read this story, my mind wandered back to 1987 and Al Campanis, the former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Appearing on Nightline with Ted Koppel to discuss Jackie Robinson’s career and legacy, Koppel asked Campanis about why in 1987 there had been few Black field managers and no Black general managers, though Robinson’s debut had been 40 years earlier.1Frank Robinson, Larry Doby, and, uh, Bueller? Bueller?

This would have been a good time to advocate for change, even in the most general of terms. Instead, Campanis responded that Blacks might “not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Needless to say, Campanis was no longer a general manager even 48 hours later. The Dodgers replaced him with Fred Claire, the architect of the worst lineup in World Series history. Baseball’s record of minority hiring at the game’s managerial levels remains spotty, to put it charitably.

Over three decades have passed from Campanis to Scharf. It is notable, and even possibly meaningful, that Scharf did not say that Blacks lack the “necessities” to work at Wells Fargo Bank. And yet, there remains—at least in Scharf’s eyes—a “limited pool” of Black talent, and, by Wells Fargo’s own admission, an entire “industry” still insufficiently dedicated to diversifying its workforce.

I will defer to the experts as to whether this is evidence of systemic racism, systematic racism, institutional racism, traditional racism, or a combination of some or all of the above. But I know this much: This is clear-cut evidence that the Civil Rights era cannot be over, that color-blind diversity does not rule the land, and America does not warrant the shameful and unearned expiation of racial sins Donald Trump offers to white voters in return for their votes.

This country’s racial legacy stares us in the face. If anyone could have shed for us the blood of racial atonement, it would have been the hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers that died, from Gettysburg to Shiloh, to reunite the Union and ultimately free the slaves. But we long ago forfeited the benefit of their sacrifice by tolerating another 160 years-and-counting after they died the abuse and oppression of America’s minority populations. And then, by electing Trump—our first Confederate President—America turned from neglecting our Civil War legacy to openly mocking it. Trump even goes so far as to make the continuing enshrinement of rebel killers a national priority. Wherever Union soldiers are resting, it is not in peace.

White America is desperate to be free of these nettlesome and tiring issues, and that is what Trump offers. For the streets, he promises death squads and armed white-supremacist militias. For the workplace, Trump promises to halt the real outrage—white male boomers forced to learn about racial sensitivity. And for the white suburban housewife, an enforced five-mile radius from any person of color, lest she be reminded that she shares this country with those who look, think, and act differently than she does.

So 2020 America has a choice. It can look itself in the eye, admit what it has done—not just in the distant past, but from 1987 to 2020—and campaign for restoration. Or it can accept Trump’s EZ-credit, no-money-down indulgence, continue burying the past, and permanently wonder not only why it lacks peace, but why Wells Fargo is never quite able to diversify its workforce.

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