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An apology for racial profiling is not enough

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

DoubleTree Hotel moved fast when the video of Jermaine Massey being summarily booted out of a DoubleTree in Portland, Oregon went viral. The hotel apologized and solemnly reiterated that it was committed to diversity and took a hard line on discrimination. The hotel had little choice in the matter. Massey screamed loud and long that he had been racially profiled. There was little doubt that he had since he was a paying guest at the hotel and his only alleged offense was chatting with his mother on a cell phone in the lobby. That was offense enough for two hotel employees to demand that he leave.

Now the apology and the pledge to promote diversity from the hotel could have been lifted from the standard template that corporations repeatedly use when they get caught almost always on a viral video of some idiotic racist slur, slander, or dumb act by one of its employees. In almost all cases, the target of the offense is an African-American who has committed no crime or impropriety. When this happens it’s a PR disaster for the company.

Major corporations are ever sensitive to the bottom line and corporate officials madly scramble to clean things up and make the embarrassment go away. The way that’s done is to fire or suspend the offender, and issue a flowery statement swearing that they are “committed to equal opportunity and diversity and have zero tolerance for racial bias.”

DoubleTree followed the script to the letter and fired the two employees involved and issued the requisite statement. The officials then pat themselves on the back for dealing with the problem, the media dutifully reports their statement, and everyone walks away happy. That is until the next time it happens. Then the all-too-familiar template for dealing with a racial bigot is trotted out again.

The Doubletree debacle is only the tip of the iceberg. In recent years some of America’s corporate giants have been dumped on the legal hot seat with massive racial discrimination lawsuits. The charges against them by now are so familiar they can almost be mailed in. Blacks are paid less, not promoted, fired or suspended more often than whites, harassed and hectored on the job, or with restaurant chains, many black patrons shout they are treated worse than kitchen help when they show up for a lunch or dinner.

Again, when that happens there’s an apology and a statement by corporate officials decrying the racist acts and pledging to diversity. Fortunately, Massey and a few others who have suffered these silly racist absurdities aren’t letting things go with an apology. Massey threatened the hotel with legal action. The hotel chain quickly said that it would implement a new round of diversity training for its staff and management. This is all well and good. However, it will happen again.

This is the Trump era. That means that there are legions of managers and employees of big and little firms who see absolutely nothing wrong in eyeing black patrons in businesses as interlopers and even potential criminals. This was the case with Massey. The police showed up and despite proof that he was a guest at the hotel he was still ordered to clear out. Massey complied. But suppose he hadn’t? Things would not have gone well for him.

Even a video of an African-American being insulted, assaulted, and disrespected in some public or private place of business doesn’t help much. It’s almost as if this type of treatment is expected. This desensitizes much of the public to this type of behavior. When the pro-forma apology comes, it’s accepted with little thought and there’s a prompt return to normalcy. However, what changes things is the threat of and the actual filing of lawsuits, the call for a boycott, the demand that offending employees be fired, staff retraining, and there be an accelerated hiring and promotion of minorities, and that includes top company officials, and where warranted financial settlements set the right template for dealing with racial profiling.

These were the actions that Starbucks faced when a manager called the cops on two black men at one of its outlets. It got the message and took the unprecedented step of shutting down almost its entire operation for a day, at the cost of tens of millions in revenue, in response to blatant racism.

In doing so, the company provided a solid model for how to decisively confront racism and the racist stereotypes that damage so many. This showed that an apology like DoubleTree made for these acts is not enough.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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