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Megyn Kelly's problems began long before her 'blackface' comments. Corporate America needs to step up

The recent incident involving NBC's Megyn Kelly, whose ill-advised and historically flawed defense of blackf...

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 9:20 PM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 9:20 PM

The recent incident involving NBC's Megyn Kelly, whose ill-advised and historically flawed defense of blackface has now led to her show being canceled by the network, is a prime example of why it is so important to have work environments that are not simply diverse, but inclusive and equitable.

These work environments don't simply come into existence. It requires planning, investment from company leaders at the highest level, and a commitment to supporting and nurturing diverse, inclusive work teams. It's something that NBC seems to be learning.

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Megyn Kelly

Racism and racial discrimination

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While some might frame the Kelly issue as "political correctness run amok," in reality it demonstrates how an individual's blind spots, if not brought to light through dialogue and engagement with people who have various perspectives and life experiences, can lead to embarrassment and the all-too-familiar corporate apology cycle. Corporate mea culpas do little to alter the structures that created the problem to begin with.

Nobody has perfect knowledge of the social and political realities that everyone faces in our society. However, that doesn't absolve us of the need to constantly educate ourselves. And regarding an issue as obvious as the offensive nature of blackface, it speaks to an especially problematic blind spot for Kelly, who once previously declared that Santa Claus is white.

This is how white supremacy works: It blinds people with privilege to the skewed reality in which they reside.

The most effective way to defend against racist and stereotypical imagery is to create work environments where there is both representation and power held by individuals who have been historically oppressed. This goes beyond the tokenized "diversity hire." This is about reimagining organizational cultures that ask hard questions and engage in critical dialogues that result in outcomes that respect the humanity of all people.

The day after Kelly's comments, she invited two African-American commentators, Roland Martin and Amy Holmes, to a discussion about the impact of her comments. While a positive step, it leaves the question: Shouldn't Kelly's production room and staff feature voices such as Martin's and Holmes' on a daily basis?

Having the ability to talk through an important topic such as cultural appropriation, colorism and the legacy of Jim Crow laws before the cameras come on is a resounding endorsement for the power of workplaces that are not simply diverse — which is representation — but are inclusive, where historically marginalized populations are involved in decision making and the direction of the organization. An inclusive and equitable organization would have had multiple voices around the table discussing this topic. This may have resulted in a decision to take an educational approach: "Here's why blackface is problematic," rather than posing it as an open question on Kelly's show.

We need to step beyond just having people of different backgrounds in the room; that's not sufficient. An organization that brings in one person from a marginalized population risks tokenizing their presence. There's also the phenomenon of cultural taxation — placing the burden of all issues related to their identity on the shoulders of that individual alone — which can lead to burnout.

Kelly asked, "How do we talk about race and our country's history with race, and have a real conversation?" Holmes responded, "With information, with sensitivity, and with also the knowledge that as a country we have struggled — paid a very dear price, and we continue to do — to try to be a country where we have dignity toward each other and different racial groups."

I would add two other attributes to the list: humility and empathy.

Any organization with a focus on equity and inclusion will have to embody these qualities — both institutionally and in its leaders. Unpacking the societal baggage that contributes to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism, for example, means that leaders will find themselves taking stands that challenge the status quo. But isn't this the essence of leadership?

At a time where many Americans are concerned that our moral and ethical compass is breaking, we are in desperate need of people and actions that articulate values of inclusion and respect for all people. We need bravery in confronting not only the extraordinary, but also the mundane and everyday ways that discrimination, prejudice and oppression are perpetuated in society.

Empathy is essential to understand that our identity greatly shapes our reality, and for those of us with an identity that is of dominant or majority status, we are often unaware of the realities for people whose identities are marginalized. Equitable and inclusive workplaces provide organizations and individuals with a bridge to understand those communities that resist oppression on a daily basis.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
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Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
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Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
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Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
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Autauga2164
Houston2094
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Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
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Washington686
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Lawrence480
Geneva400
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Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
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