Racism is Often a Matter of Perspective

March 26, 2012

The creator of this 50-state initiative, Jeff Blanco, wrote an insightful blog about racism, addressing the recent tragic shooting in Florida.   http://conservativefifty.com/jackson-sharpton-getting-even-with-obama   Jeff is Hispanic, and has a different “take” on racism, and on race.  In short, Jeff is basically pointing out that “racism” is often based on perceptions, not reality – though in our lives, all too often, “perception is reality.”

My business, public relations, is all about perception – and in our trade, we often make the observation, as Jeff (in essence) did, that perception is reality – and for some, perception is the only reality.  But early in my career, when confronted by a well-meaning civil rights activist who thought he’d caught my employer in an act of overt racism, I was able to turn things around by putting the facts he had in a different perspective.  This taught me that in many cases, “racism” is a matter of perception – and by changing perceptions, racism can be real … or racism can disappear.

In the late 1970s, I was the PR director of a county hospital in South Carolina.  Among other things, my job involved working with the local radio stations, TV stations, newspapers – the media.  One of these “media” was a black-oriented radio station that, given South Carolina’s history, had a legitimate interest in desegregation and racial equality.

Anyway, one day I got a call from the station manager, who was outraged because he had “discovered” that our hospital only employed five black registered nurses (RNs) – and for a 250-bed hospital with well over a thousand employees, that seemed like way too few.  He was ready to go public with this, but before he did, he agreed to meet with me.  So I showed up in his office with documentation from the state board of nursing showing that we employed 100% of all the black RNs who lived in our county.  100 Percent!

Now it turned out that 100 percent of all the black RNs in the county also equated to 5 black RNs.  But, as I pointed out reasonably, it wasn’t our fault that there weren’t more black RNs living in our county.  I further maintained that we would hire – immediately (there being a big nursing shortage at the time, I knew we’d hire any qualified nurses, regardless of race) – any black nurse that showed up.  He didn’t believe me, and decided to “call my bluff.”  He requested that I sit there, in his office (and there were no cell phones back then, so I had no way of “alerting” my hospital), while he arranged for a black RN to go and apply for a job at my hospital.  While I sat there, she went to the hospital, applied, and was immediately hired (and for more money than she’d been making at a hospital one county over).

The upshot?  Instead of a scathing attack on our hospital for “racism” because we “only had 5 black RNs,” we got a community service award from this black radio station for our emphasis on racial equality in both hiring and in serving patients.

The facts were the same.  But the perspective changed.  As Jeff pointed out above, racism is in the eye of the beholder.

Ned Barnett
Nevada Conservative


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