The Equality Battle
Moves to the Workplace
by L. LaMay Lathan
A New Visions Commentary
paper published May 2003 by The National Center for Public Policy
Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110,
Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected],
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Black Americans are still fighting for
equality. But the eve of the final battle is upon us, and I believe
it is a battle we can - and must - win.
Back in the 40s and 50s, we tested the
"get-along-to-get-by" process. It worked for a few,
but most of us were overlooked and pushed to the back of the
bus. The 60s saw civil rights laws and forced integration. Flash-forward
to the 70s, where we engaged in militant resistance. Then the
80s advanced education as the way to enforce equality. In the
90s, self-segregation was introduced on several college campuses.
This was the worst idea yet, since it worked against all previous
The 21st century offers a new way to
make a difference. This fight shall be the same, but different.
It shall entail color, but not skin color. It will be the color
of paper - green, to be specific.
Our next battle for the recognition and
acceptance shall be fought in the corporate boardrooms, office
conference rooms and side-by-side cubicles all over this country.
We shall take the fight - should we choose to accept the mission
- in plain sight. We will make the white majority stand up and
take notice of us not as tokens in the workplace, but as legitimate
and productive co-workers.
We've all seen the signs. More and more
blacks are advancing and being promoted to higher positions of
power within the workplace. Young people, seeing the advantage
of the 80s' education push, are working hard to make a name for
Understanding "The Man's" response
to making money is the biggest realization a young black can
The color green will be a major factor
in the future. It may be making money for someone else who will
realize your worth or you developing your own business and giving
others the chance to make money for you as well as help themselves.
The workplace is the next great battlefield
for black equalization and acceptance. The more that young blacks
are made aware of this, the better their chances for success.
This shall be our "last stand."
It's our chance to create an equal playing field for those who
follow us. We must carry the battle to show what can be achieved.
Those of us now in the workplace will be the first wave of soldiers.
The battle can be won using one simple
model. This is one that "The Man" understands - economy.
Economy, money, employment - whichever way you refer to it -
it all comes back to the color green. This is what makes the
world go 'round. Sad as it seems, and for as long as it has taken
for us to realize it, this is what will make us equal and acceptable
to "The Man."
After working for nearly 20 years in
a very segregated industry, I offer myself as living proof. For
many years, the fire sprinkler business only allowed new hires
to be recommended by existing members. Being such a small segment
of the construction industry, this exclusion went largely unnoticed.
Today, it's a different story altogether. Companies reach out
to urban areas to recruit women and people of color.
Starting out as the only black person
in my office three years ago, I have since seen two other black
men join the staff. Both are hard-working, professional, responsible
and aware of the nature of the battlefield and the fight taking
place. We recognize the impact we have upon our co-workers and
what images we need to display. It shows in our own personalities
and styles. We are a part of the new black populace: hard-working,
well spoken, business savvy, idea oriented and understanding
of "The Man's" battle plans.
We know we are on the front lines, digging
the trenches, taking the initial fire and storming the beaches.
With our brothers realizing our efforts and the rewards to be
reaped from it, we shall be victorious. That being achieved,
we shall see better homes and schools in our communities, better
lifestyles for all and the feeling we are accepted as equals
in this country.
The workplace shall be our great battlefield
of equalization. Whether we accept this challenge with a robust
response or with our normal pocketed investments of effort is
yet to be seen. If we ever needed to be on the same page, it
is that time.
Will you be a part of it?
LeMay Lathan is a member of Project 21 and author of the book
The Black Man's Guide to Working in a White Man's World.
He can be reached at [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.