Racism: A Cancer in America

Years ago, I remember hearing or possibly reading about racism as a cancer in the United States. I find myself reflecting on my generation’s (Baby Boomer) experience with racism as it now appears that generations of African Americans remember the historical hate crimes that were impactful to their respective generation. As an African American man, I will stay within the context of that marginalized or under-represented community. Dependent upon your generation, you might identify with Emmett Till, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, or most recently George Floyd. Not to diminish the impact of other hate crimes that have made the national news, but those are the events that I personally remember as being impactful.

The celebratory atmosphere that was in the air with the election of our first black president now appears to be a distant memory. The analogy of racism as a cancer appears to be relevant today as it appears our cancer of racism simply went into remission during those days. Like many forms of cancer, it appears to have come back with a vengeance as the battle continues. After years of diversity training, upon reflection that training appeared to be more compliance driven and taught us how to hide our racism as covert racism replaced overt racism in our organizations. In other words, the main objective or driver of the training appeared to be to prevent legal ramifications of racist behavior.

It is fairly easy to find myself fantasizing about the possibility of being able to cure racism with the development of a vaccination like we did for COVID-19. Then the reality of our situation hits me as I foresee that the ones that would really need the vaccine would most likely never become vaccinated. It might be a naïve notion, but I long for Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of being judged by the content of my character as opposed to the color of my skin.

The cancer of racism is a disease that gets passed down from generation to generation. Technology has played a role in showing blatant examples of hate, from television coverage of women and children being attacked by police dogs during peaceful protests, to the beating of Rodney King and the public execution of George Floyd. There are large bodies of research on the history of racism in America despite efforts to censor that history. Significant research exists that points to the economic impact of slavery in establishing the United States as a superpower.

I had a conversation with a former Chief Diversity Officer of a major corporation who was also African American. I was struck by their comment of isn’t it interesting that those that are part of the problem always look to us to solve it? That comment continues to haunt me to this day. Like a lot of people, I have worked hard to work my way up the corporate ladder with stints in commercial banking and government, acquiring the prerequisite credentials along the way in my spare time. Like many in my community, it never seemed to be enough.

My resume shows expertise in a few areas, but I won’t bore you with those details. What amazes me to this day is that with all that expertise, experience, and education, I am still primarily called upon to solve the problem of racism and instead of seeing my credentials the majority market continues to typecast me into the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert. Curtis can you teach a leadership course for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community? Curtis, can you chair a dissertation committee for a student doing research on DEI? Curtis, can we interview you on DEI issues? Curtis, can you sit at our table for all the predominately black events? Curtis, will you join our DEI committee?

A colleague and friend who is also an African American once said to me that my experience being on every DEI committee for every organization that I worked for brings me a certain level of expertise. It has long been my opinion that to have an impact on DEI, we need to move away from the heavy emphasis on societal impact and focus on the capitalistic significance of having DEI within an organization. Really the focus should be on the equity and inclusion part as it is my belief that if you get those two categories right, then the diversity part will follow.

Recently, I met someone working as a professional in DEI and they introduced me to a book that I hope will have a significant impact. The book is titled “Inclusalytics: How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leaders Use Data to Drive Their Work”. The authors Victoria Mattingly, Ph.D. and Sertice Grice, use research and their practitioner experience to make a case for the use of data in leading successful DEI efforts. Candidly, I have not finished reading the book and am trying not to skip to the punchline. As a former banker, I just want to see the math and see how they are using data to measure the effectiveness of DEI strategy and interventions.

Many of us have experienced some form of diversity training. Some have been good. Many seem to provide a good optic for the organization to say look what we did. How many times have we been going through this training trying hard to suppress an eye roll? Treating DEI as a critical business metric might not be the cure for this cancer that plagues America, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Let us get away from placing the responsibility of DEI on the under-represented and under-served communities and instead make it an organizational goal with equal focus with other income statement line items. We had a saying in private industry for always having to participate in an organization’s DEI committee. We called it the black tax. Let’s repeal the black tax and start the necessary work to reduce this particular form of cancer on our communities.


Curtis Gregory, Senior Advisor | [email protected] 

Dr. Gregory is a community-conscious developer of human capital and enabler of access to capital for marginalized communities. He is an expert in leadership and organizational change, and a talented asset manager, powerful motivator and staff developer, as well as an excellent communicator.

Since 2017, Dr. Gregory has been on the staff of the Fox School of Business, Temple University, where he has taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Currently, he is also the Academic Director of Experiential Learning. Additionally, he continues to serve as a Project Executive with the Fox Management Consulting Practice.

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