The Equality Battle Moves to the Workplace, by E. LeMay Lathan

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 efforts.

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 themselves.

Understanding “The Man’s” response to making money is the biggest realization a young black can develop.

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?


Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.