MANSFIELD: Systemic Change?


Immediately after I obtained my media credentials for the three-day “Cleveland Rising” summit at the Public Auditorium on Tuesday morning, I ran into a dear friend who is in upper management in the community development corporation world. As we chatted, another friend, the wife of an elected high official, touched my arm to say hello. I asked the two women if they knew each other, but as it turned out, only by reputation. So I introduced two of the brightest, kindest and most concerned women in Cuyahoga County to each other.

Before we parted I asked these two fine and fair-minded white women if they noticed anything about what was going on in the large foyer where attendees were being greeted to the summit and assisted in finding their alphabetized name tags.

It hit them both at the same time: At an event to promote better relations between Greater Clevelanders of different backgrounds and races, all of the greeters were white. The same was true at the media table where I got my credentials. The fact that my friends — true progressives to the core — didn’t initially see the lack of diversity until prompted is not at all unusual. As I’ve stated in the past, diversity has to be worked at in America, and clearly whoever organized the greeters simply was racially tone deft. However, as I left the area I did see one woman of color at a table off to the side.

Initially I was reluctant to start off my commentary on the summit with this bit of negativity since I am sincerely pleased that members of Cleveland’s corporate community recognize that we have a problem with equality hereabouts and honestly want to do something about it. But I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

A concerted effort to be inclusive in selecting co-chairs for the summit resulted in half of the dozen members of that body being persons of color. I know almost all of the six of them (at least to some degree or another) and I take them for being serious-minded individuals. This leaves me all the more dumbfounded that such a rookie mistake of not insuring inclusion at every step of the process was allowed to slip through. They should have made it their business to be involved in every step of the organizational process.

With that said, I admire the black folk that step up and get involved with initiatives of this type simply because many black naysayers eschew such involvement. They stubbornly refuse to participate in white-led efforts and then decry the lack of black inclusion in the process while questioning whatever conclusions are formulated.

However, blacks have an obligation to be more than just a checked-off statistic. Sometimes blacks are given seats at the table only so the illusion of inclusion can be created and maintained. They’re more of a box to be checked off than a meaningful participant in the process, not that I’m suggesting this is what occurred at the organizational level of this summit.

My skepticism of a positive outcome, however, is not based on who is in attendance at the summit, but more on who elected not to attend: The true holders of the purse strings — bankers. The crux of the problem, the barrier that keeps minorities locked out of prosperity, is the lack of fair access to one of the two things America was built on: Credit. The other, of course, being slavery.

Unless the organizers of the summit can figure out a way to stop banks from redlining, to get them to level the playing field in terms of lines of credit and loans for minority businesses, the rest of the ideas generated by very well-meaning folks amounts to little more than blue-skying.

Anand Giridharadas, the author of Winner Take All, The Elite Charade of Changing the World, recently said on a podcast, “You can tell the rich and powerful in our age to do more good, but you can never tell them to do less harm. You can tell them to give more, but you can’t tell them to take less. You can tell them to share the spoils of extreme capitalism, but you can’t tell them to renovate capitalism.”

I posit that until capitalism is renovated, democratized and made fair for all, minorities will continue to suffer financially, and no summit can change that, since in America, we’re operating under an effectively corrupt financial system that so far has proven to be impervious to change.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc

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