I've been finishing work on my latest film so I haven't written much lately. It's a film about diversity and inclusion. So, suffice to say I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about race, ethnicity and respect. And, given the political climate, race is on everyone's lips. Kudos to Senator Obama for placing these matters front and center. We live in America and sooner or later, all politics becomes about race or fear-- or some permutation thereof. Race and fear have cast a unavoidable inescapable shadows across our history. But can we say we ever learn from this history?
We ignore these matters because it's inconvenient to discuss then openly and honestly.
I've lived on both sides of the discussion, having attended schools primarily populated by whites; and worked in environments where the leadership was dominated by whites-- yet, the reality of being a 'kid' from South Central L.A. with family roots in segregated Mississippi keeps me on balance when it comes to race. I still assume every cop is going to pull me from my car and apply the stick to my head. That's my L.A. experience, my Dad's Mississippi experience, and the many years observing what happens to people of color.
One of my friends is a native Texan-- born and reared in a place called Hurst. His aching fear is that his eight year old daughter, upon reaching her teenage years, with fall eagerly and hopelessly in love with a black boy. One of his church buddies--with a 16-year old daughter-- is currently facing a similar situation. The two, I assume, commiserate.
This, in my view, isn't racism-- but fear. It is a fear based on losing what's comfortable and familiar. Oh how my heart goes out to those who live for the "if only things could be as they were before." The book of Exodus records God Himself chiding the Hebrews for being so much in love with their past life in Egypt, they couldn't see the possibilities of the future. Living life, longing for what's past, must be a paralyzing paradigm.
But Orwell told us that 'what is past is prologue,' so we'd be wise to understand and grasp its lessons.
Slavery - Past and Present
There is no value is blaming today's descendant of slave owners for benefitting from the fruits and profits of slavery. There is, I think, value in placing the economics of slavery in historical context.
My next film will be about what's referred to in the business community as "Continuous Improvement." Or, to borrow the Japanese term, 'KAIZEN.' Simply stated, this is a philosophy of operating a business that zeroes in on two seminal constructs:
1. Respect for people and their ideas are first and foremost.
2. Relentlessly look for ways to simplify processes, eliminate waste and improve the quality of the good and services presented.
Our Japanese brothers and sisters took this 'to the next level' (particularly, Toyota Motors), the roots of the idea was constructed by a brilliant American writer and thinker, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The 'Toyota Way,' which is globally accepted as the penultimate manufacturing philosophy, grew from the "Deming Way."
If only Mr. Deming had been born in 1800 instead of 1900.
If race is at the core of the divisiveness that permeates our Country, then slavery (and, by extension, the slave trade) is the opening point of the dialogue. And, one cannot properly discuss slavery without discussing the despot known as "KIng Cotton."
Cotton represented the engine that turned the economy of the Southern States. And, the lives of blacks and white were both entwined in its turbulent embrace.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer and thinker, wrote in the 1820's the fates of the "American born white and American born Negro were forever and inexorably linked- but, neither will accept that truth." A prescient comment from a guy writing 180 years ago!
Were the Southern slave owners evil men or simply ignorant? I would like to advance this argument: "The real problem with the old South is that they should have made the Negro a partner in the "Cotton Kingdom.'
Deming would have looked around and said: "Let's upgrade the living conditions in the slave quarters, give them better food and water and allow them a seat at the the table in determing the best way to improve the process of improving the flow of cotton from seed to marketplace.
The white slave owners, for cultural and religious reasons, viewed the Negro as a subservient class to be relegated to the whip and lash. What would have happened if they had acted 'as if' the slaves were equal and offered them a fair percentage of sales and a portion of the land that could work and keep up to 80% of the cotton profits...for themselves!
What would this have fostered in the slaves? How would their approach to every aspect of their life been altered by such a choice?
The slave owners chose to view human beings as 'chattel,' rather than as partners. Could the Civil War have been avoided had the slave owners engaged the slave population as partners as early as the development of the cotton gin.
This fundamental misstep-- the misstep of not treating people with respect brought about the destruction and implosion of the "Cotton Kingdom' and set the cause of race relations back in the United States.
I don't know whether the Southern slave owners were more interested in having a perpetual 'leisure class,' or suffered from a paternalist, xenophobic bent in their character that effecively blinded them to slavery ills. I have a hard time believing it only about greed.
Dr. Deming could have advanced an argument to both sides that said: "You don't have to LIKE each other...you simply have to realize that you have a common bond: sustaining and growing the 'cotton kingdom. And together, it is possible." He would have further argued: "It will be easier to end slavery by advancing an economic argument rather than a moral one."
Lynching and beatings would have come to a stop. (What value is there to lynching a partner who is helping you be successful?")
The rub in this equation is the non-land owning poorer whites. (Who suffered nearly as bad as the blacks.) What would happen to them as the black plantation workers (formerly known as slaves) began to prosper? Well, there is place at the table for them. The non-slave owning whites would be encouraged to join the merchant and artisan class benefitting from the greater profits created by this joint approach to work.
Child labor, of course, was a significant problem. Deming's examination of the inherent wastes in cotton production would have potentially increased productivity to a point where no person under the age of fourteen years would be needed or allowed to work in the fields. Thus, an opportunity for education.
A greater focus on education means advancement in production and the explosive growth of ideas. With this comes changes in water usage, conservation and community planning. And, of course, full enfranchisement and a 'seat a the table' on matters of civic and governmental endeavors.
The hindrance, of course, is the underlying truth in de Tocqueville's words.
The black former slave said: "It's the white man's fault. They take the fruit of my labors, overcharge me for goods and services, deny me and my off-spring the privilege of education, destroy my family structure and restrict my ability to travel."
The whites former slave owners said: "Why can't you just be satisfied as a day laborer or worker. Why do you want to be educated? Why do you want to be something other that what you are? Can you just be happy, dumb and faithful?"
This fundamental mistrust --aching and tragic-- is rooted what most white slave owners and their sons believed: "You can't keep the Negro working without slavery, sharecropping and the lash." This means that one has NO respect for another as a human being--just because of insignificant differences relating to pigmentation and environment.
Deming could have brought ideas of careful training, foresight and thoughtfulness that expressed a partnership with the Negro and moving the entire culture away from the very notion of enslavement.
Even had the war still occurred, Deming's ideas could have provided a bridge across the slippery straits of "Reconstruction" that would have allowed blacks, whites and the South to emerge on a solid economic foundation. The South had far more natural resources than the entire country of Japan.
What could have become a model a brave, new society based on cooperation and humanity became an embittered, segrated petri dish where distrust prevailed. The result: the establishment of a permanent black underclass.
It is no wonder that Lincoln would opine: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
So Why Aren't Samsung Flat Screen TVs Made in Detroit?
I lusciously stare at my Samsung Hi-Definition television because it's a work of art--and, it works so well.
Why aren't Samsung Hi-Definition televisions made in Michigan? The good citizens of Detroit and other Michiganders are embroiled in a discussion about the conduct of Mayor Kilpatrick and democratic party machinations relating to delegates.
I think a more valuable discussion is what is the good Mayor will do do about bringing industry and and jobs to the city of Detroit. How about a trip to Korea? How about finding ways to re-engineer idle manufacturing plants to build Hi-Definition televisions in Detroit?
Samsung, according to its' vision statement, sees itself as a responsible player in ares of global Corporate Citizenship. So, why not pitch to them that Detroit is a great place to invest? Deming laid out the philosophy-- why not teach the KAIZEN principle in junior colleges and give learners practical skills in preparation to work in a different kind of factory? Are we not going this because no one has thought of it? Clearly, that can't be the case. We don't this for the same reasons the Southern Slave owners maintained the infrastructure of slavery and sharecropping until they crumbled: No one wants to change until the pain of 'not changing becomes personal.'
Here lies a realistic viewer to interpret history:
1.) Take an event that was really detrimental to a lot of people.
2.) Study the event its context.
3.) Look for a parallel circumstance in this present age.
4.) Don't let history repeat
Uneducated and unlearned 'slave owners,' only seeking to protect the status quo, contributed to a national disgrace in the pursuit of profits over people. Replace the words 'slave owners' in the previous sentence with 'out of touch management' or 'disinterested poiliticians' and presto: Here is another opportunity to learn from history rather than repeating it again and again.