Racism is Really Dumb – Especially in the USA

I love it that we have different ethnicities in America. For lots of reasons. Mainly, it’s just more fun that way.

Before I start: who am I? I’m Jack Finnell, a white businessman living in Newport Beach, CA. I’m a registered Republican who frequently votes for Democrats if they’re offering a better man or woman. I’ve had a successful business career and am in decent shape financially. Just positioning myself for you.

I grew up in all-white upper middle-class towns in NY and NJ. The only non-white person in my public high school class was Ya Chan, our charming and intelligent American Field Service exchange student from China. Then, I went to Yale where I met many Blacks, Asians and Hispanics. Many were smarter than I. How do I know that? Well, many got higher grades than I did, and I saw them interact with the professors, other students and me, too. To get into one of these top U.S. colleges, you have to have very good grades in secondary school and have high SAT scores. If you’re not already a highly studious (okay, nerdy) individual, you’re just not going to cut it at a place like Yale, Smith or Stanford. So, it was no surprise to me that these guys were bright. And by no means did they all come from moneyed backgrounds – hardly. The point is that it became an established fact for me: no race is smarter or dumber than the others. All races produce people you want to know, learn from and have as co-workers and friends.

After graduating with a B.A. in Economics, I joined the Navy and spent two tours in Vietnam on the USS Cleveland (LPD-7) with a thousand Marines and three hundred Sailors. This was in ’68 and ’69. Even though there were riots going on back home as part of the Civil Rights movement of the time, everything was cool on my ship. Why? Because President Truman had integrated the services twenty years prior in 1948. Now, the officer ranks – and I was a junior officer – can be somewhat political. Not so much in the enlisted ranks, because you only get promoted on the basis of time in grade and passing written and oral exams. The military doesn’t screw around because lives are at stake. You’ve perhaps heard the comment that “There ain’t no atheists in a foxhole.” Well, there ain’t no racists, either. It’s all about teamwork and protecting your American brothers and sisters. That’s not idealism, folks. Trust me – that’s just how it is. So, just like my college experience, I once again met many superior Blacks, Asians and Hispanics in the military. Yes, and some hot shot white guys, too.

When I got out of the Navy, I still had plenty of student debt. My father, a Wall Street analyst and semi-pro baseball player, died when I was eighteen. I went from being well off to broke, like many other young people then and now. My uncle Frank, who had moved out to L.A. from NY, was a salesman and said I should go into Sales, too. Okay, why not? Maybe I can make a few bucks and pay off my debt. I joined Xerox, which back in the day, along with IBM and GE, was one of the “academy companies.” Great Sales training and superior Management training, too. I confess it didn’t dawn on me that it was weird that in the L.A. Downtown Branch, there was only one Black guy in Sales and no Asians or Hispanics. More on that later. After a good start in Sales, I moved up to Sales Training Manager, in the West L.A. Branch. My job was to recruit, hire and train the new Sales Trainees while achieving a monthly copier placement target, as well. This was in 1971, the year that Nixon came out with Affirmative Action. If you wanted to do business with the Federal government, you had to hire consistent with your local demographics. In L.A., that meant hire Blacks, Hispanics and then Asians. And two years later: Oh, yeah, don’t forget to hire and promote women, eh? So, I did hire a Black guy who was a friend of mine right off, and then I started using this head hunting firm founded by two young Black attorneys. They sent me an ace, whom I hired, and then a couple of also-rans whom I did not. I called one of the attorneys and said, “Hey, look, I don’t care about my Affirmative Action targets. What I do care about is my team’s copier placement targets.” “Oh, Mister Social Justice, eh?” he replied. After we both snickered, I said, “Therefore, I’ll go way over my Affirmative Action numbers, if you send me superstars and no more average folk.” Well, he complied; and I did hire more Black men and women than my Affirmative Action targets required. And, by the way, not only did these folks exceed their production targets, none of them complained about being treated unprofessionally by their prospective clients, most of whom were white men and women. I know there are white racists in America then and now. I don’t think I’m being naïve in saying there aren’t a ton of them out there. Personally, I’ve never known a KKK member or anyone who does know one – or a member of any other racist group. And, no, I don’t just hang out with college grads. Most of my ex-Navy pals are high school grads as are many of the hundreds of tech reps I’ve hired over the years. They’re too cool, too smart, too successful to be racists. And, like me, they have friends from all ethnicities.

I’m not saying there isn’t inherent racism in all of us. By that, I mean that we subconsciously make generalized assumptions about people based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, accent and other traits. Don’t sweat it. It doesn’t matter whether your innate assumptions are positive or negative. Just treat everyone as an individual, and you’ll do fine.

Currently, I only have positive vibes about Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Middle Easterners here in the U.S. Too many good experiences. It kind of washes over you after a while. I’m not saying there are no Blacks, Asians, Hispanics or Middle Easterners whom I don’t absolutely love to death. Just saying that, overwhelmingly, I’ve had good experiences.

If America were all white or all anything, I think it would be boring as hell. What, you don’t like Mexican food?!!? It’s the mix that makes us cool, I think. Gives us an edge vs. other countries.

A quick word about Affirmative Action: I think it’s still needed to keep us focused. As I mentioned earlier, when I first joined Xerox, there was only one non-white guy in the L.A. Downtown Branch. But I didn’t think anything about it. I didn’t wonder why it wasn’t more like college or the Navy. I might not be as insensitive today, but who knows? We should have race and gender-based hiring targets so that we stay attuned to the need to be fair and open to all. That does not mean for one minute that you have to compromise your standards when hiring. There are too many hot shots out there in our great country. Sure, Affirmative Action was a boost for minorities and women. But guess who else made out? American Industry, that’s who. Why? Because it doubled, tripled and quadrupled our hiring pool. Affirmative Action and diversity are NOT about compromising standards – it’s about raising them by broadening them.

And that strength through diversity continues today, making our country the one I want to live in forever. I love it that we’re not all the same. Ethnic variety is fun, and it is instructive, bringing different experiences and points of view together. I believe it is a strength that will withstand our self-criticism. And that self-criticism, e.g., “white privilege,”etc., is okay, too. This is America. We have the liberty to examine our past and suggest improvements going forward.

Friends, do NOT give up on yourself and do NOT give up on us or on our wonderful country. We are all in it together – no matter our race, ethnicity or gender – and aren’t we lucky we can say that and know it’s true?