#AmyCooper Should Be A Required Case Study for Workplace Equity & Inclusion
Black Twitter set the internet on fire after a video posted of a Black man asking a White woman to put her dog on a leash in Central Park. The woman refused to follow the prescribed rules that state, dogs must be on a leash (no more than six feet long) at all times. She behaved by approaching the man in an extremely irate manner, preceded to point at him, and placed a call to the New York police. She stated that an African American male was threatening her. I will also note that she almost strangled her poor dog with her erratic and toxic behavior. It would have been simple for her to follow the rules and put a leash on her dog. But her privilege led her to believe that the Black man was beneath her, that he was not deserving of her courtesy and respect.
The woman, identified as Amy Cooper, was a vice president and head of investment solutions at Franklin Templeton Investments in New York City. I was one of the many who tweeted to Franklin Templeton asking if she was fit to lead in their organization, demanding they take action. The firm later announced that she was terminated. I had a few interesting debates with my White peers who felt that her behavior at that moment did not justify the loss of livelihood and career. My response was that the Black man involved did not deserve her attempt to have police weaponized against him for being Black. Her behavior was racist. It’s not up for debate, and unfortunately, this behavior is all too familiar to Black people. I will also state that I do not condone or support anyone who is threatening her life. That behavior is not justified under any circumstance.
I commend Franklin Templeton for their decision to terminate this employee. What if she managed people of color? How could she separate her racist views from her workplace performance? It is impossible. Even if she was successful in masking irate behavior, her racist views and perceptions still run wild in her thoughts, which most certainly harmed the professionals she managed and worked with throughout the day. I can imagine the behavioral indignities and racial slights she spewed to the people of color at her place of employment. I, like many Black professionals, have certainly experienced our fair share of this behavior in corporate America.
As I have repeatedly said, racism does not magically disappear when we go to work. This incident is a clear example of why you cannot ignore the subject of racism and white privilege in training efforts to advance equity and inclusion in the workplace. White privilege is the root cause of racism. It’s a legacy of historical prejudice and biases that cause people to take racist actions. To be clear, I’m not saying all White people with privilege are racists because “privilege” is not exclusive to people of the White race. Racism and racist behavior certainly exists among all ethnic groups. What I am saying is that if you’re working to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, you better get comfortable coaching people on being uncomfortable.
Traditional and ineffective methods of equity and inclusion training that avoid courageous conversations about race and white privilege in our society are useless in changing a workplace culture built on decades of systemic inequality. And using “unconscious bias” as a way to gently introduce and smooth over the topic has proven to be ineffective for long term success. Until leaders are willing to get comfortable discussing and learning about the uncomfortable issues of race, racism, privilege, and systemic inequality, we will never be able to advance equity and inclusion in or out of the workplace.