Overcoming the racial ravine in business
There are many different types of business relationships on all different levels in the business community. As Legatus members, we are in a unique position to help overcome the racial divides that can negatively affect our businesses. The reality is that we are in an environment where our workforces are more diversified. Each day, millions of people go to work with a feeling of anxiety about how their day will go, how they will deal with racial (or gender) prejudices they encounter, or how they will overcome the stereotypes associated with them due to the color of their skin.
While there are many ways to overcome racial divides in business relationships, I draw your attention to four easily shared and implementable strategies that stem from our Catholic faith. The first three have to do with awareness; while the fourth is about experience.
1. Appearance: Color and Dress
When you first meet a new business associate, give the person the benefit of the doubt. Try not to judge the person by skin color or the way he or she is dressed. Skin color is not something that they can (or should) change. And mode of dress may be of cultural or religious significance.
Jesus often ate with sinners (see Matthew 9:10-17, Mark 2:13-17, and Luke 5:29-39). He did not tell them what they could wear to the meal. Jesus probably did not even dominate the conversation. He listened. He learned what they thought and how they viewed the world. Jesus gave each person present the dignity due him as a human being—valid in his own right, regardless of his current situation or job.
When we encounter new faces that may be different from our own, it is important that we remember that each person deserves human dignity because it is imparted by God Himself. Just as Jesus valued all those around him, so too should we value each person.
2. See a Person, Not a Group
When Jesus was walking through Samaria (John 4), he met a Samaritan woman. Although taboo for many reasons, he spoke to her. In the end, he offered her “living water” (verse 10). Jesus saw the individual woman, not the entire population of Samaria. However, through this woman, many wonderful things came to pass for her entire town.
Each day, we have business dealings with different types of people. When we encounter a person from a minority group, we must be aware that the person before us does not represent that entire ethnic group. Try to refrain from utterings like “you all” when addressing the individual.
Don’t assume a level of education one has based on his skin color. Also, do not assume that he is not capable of being educated in a certain way due to skin color. Rather, consider asking your employees to join you in becoming involved in the local educational community.
4. Be Merciful
Lastly, to endeavor to overcome racial divides, we need to remember that each new encounter lends itself to an opportunity for mercy rather than charity. People are in the United States for a variety of reasons. For some, it was because an ancestor emigrated here generations ago or their parents might have escaped horrible conditions in getting here. Still others were illegally brought here as slaves and their families have nevertheless made this country their home. Whatever the reason, each person that you are doing business with has a unique story. Jesus was a foreigner in Egypt for many years, which was a sanctuary for the Holy Family (see Matthew 2:13-15). Whatever the individual story, we all have an important part in the Catholic community to try to help heal the racial divides that we are currently experiencing.
DEACON LARRY ONEY, a Legate and permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is a premier Catholic speaker, dynamic teacher, author, radio host, and founder of Hope and Purpose Ministries. He is chairman of the board of the largest African-American-owned third-party administration/program management firm in the U.S., HGI Global. His newest book is Amazed by God’s Grace: Overcoming Racial Divides by the Power of the Holy Spirit (Word Among Us Press).