Writing columns that everyone agrees with is pointless


I own a dog, and I'm a writer. During my career, I have had several thousand articles published under my real name as a full-time and free-lance reporter for major and minor publications. I've written news, business, sports, and technology articles as well as features, columns, editorials, and lots of nonsense. My highlights include crashing a Ronald Reagan press conference by flashing my pass for my college’s football press box, interviewing baseball star Kent Hrbek as he started a farting contest, and chasing Joe Biden as he ran down the stairs of a temple to a covert presidential fundraiser.


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SEPTEMBER 23, 2008 5:12PM


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"You’re black!!!"

The man was practically screaming at me. I was startled. I am white, but this man was proclaiming that I was being discriminated against because I was African-American.

It was 1982. I had sought a management training job in New York City. Several of my college classmates had attained such jobs, essentially company-subsidized MBA’s with large salaries, from the same companies that told me there were no openings. Perplexed, I consulted Robert Jameson Associates, a job search consulting firm.

Within seconds, Jameson’s Chris Cunningham looked at my resume and pointed at the paragraph about my internship on Capitol Hill. The conversation went something like this:

Cunningham: "Get this off your resume. If you do, you’ll get job offers."

Me: "Are you saying that companies only want people focused on Business?"

Cunningham: "No." (He just kept glaring at me like I was an idiot)

Me: "Are you saying that companies don’t want to hire people interested in Politics?" (He was now angry and his face was turning red.)......."Are you trying to tell me that companies are conservative and they won’t hire people who have worked for liberals?"

Cunningham (very loudly): "You’re black!!!"

Me: "Excuse me."

Cunningham: "You’re black!!! You worked for a black. They think you’re black. Big companies don’t hire blacks!!!"

I "fixed" my resume and sent it to a few companies that had rejected me. One week later, I received letters from Chase Manhattan Bank and Manufacturers Hanover Bank that said "Call us immediately" and expressed an interest in hiring me ASAP. Angered, I did not pursue the opportunities, but I still have copies of the four letters from the two companies.

My experience as an African-American was jolted back into my memory this week as I heard and read about two contrasting portraits of America.

In one, an Associated Press report, "more than a third of all white Democrats and independents – voters (Barack) Obama can't win the White House without – agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don't have such views."

In the second, I learned that racism doesn’t exist – and didn’t in 1960 either (my deliberately provocative headline). How do I know? A conservative radio talk show host told me so.

I had just turned on the Chicago station that was a few minutes away from broadcasting Rush Limbaugh. The Chicago Limbaugh was ranting that basketball star Josh Howard had no right to complain about racism because he earned $9 million per year. He implied several times that the high salaries of many African-Americans proved racism did not exist.

The rant inspired Dittoheads to call in to agree with him. The reactions weren’t as ugly as the racist bilge that Howard’s boss, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, received and published, but it’s fair to conclude that the host has many listeners who are stupid or racially insensitive.

Back to my headline. In 1960, Wilt Chamberlain, Willie Mays, Jim Brown, and other sports stars were very successful and admired by far more Americans than Howard. Yet, Mays could not eat in "White Only" restaurants in his native Alabama and his childhood neighbors were not allowed to vote.

Based on the talk show host’s logic, these stars had no right to complain about racism because their success proved it didn’t exist. Or maybe he was implying that they – and their 2008 equivalents – should be greedy bastards who should ignore racism even if they believe that millions of African-Americans are victims of discrimination because they are personally wealthy.

In either case, the talk show host’s outburst was emblematic of a "see no evil" approach in the USA. In this world, the nation need not worry about discrimination because Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan have mind-boggling wealth and Americans like them. I think that we do need to worry about racism although I hope that there is less of it than there was in 1982.

As for me, I learned two valuable lessons on that day in 1982. Half asleep for an early-morning appointment, I put on a suit and a tie, a dress shirt, dress pants, dress shoes – and the first pair of socks that I grabbed out of the drawer. On the train, I realized I was wearing white socks.

As I waited for Mr. Cunningham, the receptionist told colleagues while she giggled that I was wearing white socks. After Mr. Cunningham’s advice on my resume, our meeting ended. As I walked out the door, he said "one more thing. Don’t ever wear white socks with shoes."

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anecdotes, racism, society, news, politics

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