December 14, 2000: Diversity Training Shouldn’t be Directed Just to Whites

While the nation has remained transfixed over the question of “how many lawyers does it take to elect a president,” The Coca-Cola Company continues to sue for peace.  This time it has pledged $1.5 million to establish the Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta.  I presume the creation of this academy is just another response to the class-action discrimination lawsuit that has preoccupied the company for some time now.

This money can be added to the $192.5 million for settling the lawsuit brought against Coca-Cola by a group of black employees and the $1 billion the corporation is committing to spend with minorities and women over the next five years.   If I didn’t know better, I would say Coca-Cola is trying to buy its way into heaven.

I hope the people who run the Diversity Academy won’t be the same ones who operated the Atlanta Braves much-hyped diversity training program last spring.  The Braves undertook that appeasement effort after noted pitcher/philosopher John Rocker graced us with his views on New York, people with purple hair, foreigners “who don’t speak our language,” gays, unwed mothers and the Number 7 subway.  Faced with the same kind of pressure that Coca-Cola has been under – and from many of the same people – the Braves decided to get sensitive.  Stan Kasten, president of the Atlanta Braves, said at that time, “We take our image in the community very seriously.”

The result was a kinder, gentler baseball team that was pounded out of the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals.  Then, star outfielder Brian Jordan got in a snit when it looked like he might be traded for a Hispanic shortstop.  That sounds diverse to me but not to Mr. Jordan, who harrumphed, “The Braves always said they want to attract more African-Americans to the ballpark. Trading away all your African-Americans that the community looks up to, it’s kind of hard to plead your case.” So much for diversity training down at the ol’ ball yard!   Replied Mr. Kasten, “I won’t be baited into this.”  No word yet from the Hispanic Shortstop Society.

I do feel more confident about Coca-Cola’s chances for success with their diversity efforts. For one thing, they don’t have to play either the Cardinals or the New York Mets next year.

Coca-Cola might do well to look at the Braves’ experience, however.  Did anybody really think diversity training would prevent a guy that doesn’t want to be traded from playing the race card?  I’m not a big fan of the Braves but I trust them to sign a wombat if they think it could hit .300 and still keep them within their payroll limits.  Race has nothing to do with it, and a supposedly classy guy like Brain Jordan should know that.

Therein lies the problem.  We are talking about fairness, and the rules are skewed in one direction.  While Jordan has no qualms about accusing his employer of racism, what would happen if one of his teammates complained about being traded because he was white?  (Answer:  The media and the Concerned Black Clergy would have a field day.)  Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the aforementioned Concerned Black Clergy can deal race cards all day long and the media will trip over their TV cameras giving the assorted reverends as large a forum as possible.  Wrong-headed Rocker can blather his nonsense and the same reverends brand him racist. Maybe he is but so are they.  Let’s play by the same rules, folks.

Diversity training needs to be just that – diverse.  Teaching whites to be sensitive to minorities is critically important, but instructors should also flip to the other side of the coin.  Minorities need to understand that the large majority of people in this country are fair-minded but don’t like being presumed racist.  They don’t like being sent on perpetual guilt trips. They don’t like people yelling “race” over every perceived slight and transgression, and they don’t like being extorted by opportunists.  I hope these sentiments are conveyed at the Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta.

Businesses choose the path of least resistance.  Surrendering is easier than seeing your name in the headlines day after day.  There may have been discrimination in The Coca-Cola Company but I doubt there was a billion dollars’ worth.  In the meantime, Coca-Cola stock has swooned like a lovesick teenager over the past couple of years while archrival PepsiCo seems to be growing stronger.

In my view, Pepsi poses a more serious threat to Coca-Cola than diversity problems.  Unfortunately, Coke can’t buy off Pepsi.