Let me start by saying I really don't know what racism feels like. The only time I've ever felt like I was in the neighborhood of being the subject of racism was when I played college basketball (I was the minority in that situation). But was I the subject of real racism? Nah...
White people problems, indeed.
But everything that's transpired in the last week at the University of Missouri? If you're a leader who just happens to be white, there's probably some lessons there for you - but probably for all leaders as well. In case you missed it, here's a basic rundown from ESPN:
"The president of the University of Missouri system stepped down Monday, and the flagship Columbia campus' chancellor announced he will "transition" into a different position at the end of year amid criticism of their handling of student complaints about race and discrimination.
The race complaints came to a head over the weekend, when at least 30 black members of the football team announced they would not participate in team activities until Wolfe was gone.
For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white flagship campus of the state's four-college system. Frustrations flared during the homecoming parade Oct. 10, when protesters blocked Wolfe's car, and he did not get out to talk to them. The protesters were removed by police.
Black members of the football team joined the outcry Saturday night. By Sunday, a campus sit-in had grown, graduate student groups planned walkouts and politicians began to weigh in.
Until Monday, Wolfe did not indicate he had any intention of stepping down. He agreed in a statement Sunday that "change is needed" and said the university was working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance.
The Tigers' next game is Saturday against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Canceling the game could have cost the schoolmore than $1 million. Players have confirmed the game will be played as scheduled, and they'll practice Tuesday.
"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,'" the players said in their statement Saturday. "We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"
Football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity on Twitter and posted a picture of the players and coaches locking arms.
Now - onto the lessons. First up, we don't really have any information that tells us the university president had any issues with race on an individual level. Let's assume for purposes of this post that he's a straight up guy that way.
If that's the case, here's what I think leaders can learn from the Mizzou race situation:
1. When you see low level hate activity with no names or individuals to attach to it, it's not enough at times to say we're "looking into it" or "we're going to work on that". You have to take action, and if you don't, you may be held accountable in a way that is career-threatening and embarrassing to you.
2. You can't be stand-offish to small interest groups that form. You have to engage, or the problem is probably going to get worse.
3. Social media can blow any situation through the roof.
4. All it takes is one group with over-weighted power to take a stand and you'll be out. Let's face it, the deans of the various schools came forward and recommended the president stand down. Crickets. The football team came forward and it was all over for that president in less than 48 hours. Money and viral pressure from social media, the kind that maybe only sports can deliver in our country, reigns supreme.
Take action when you see bad stuff. Bring the special interest groups in and make them part of figuring out the solution when it comes to race. You can't afford to wait around and hope that everything calms down.
PS: if you want to contrast the approaches of white guys who lead organizations, compare the Mizzou president vs Gary Pinkel. Is Pinkel, the head football coach at Missouri, the man when it comes to inclusion? First, he had the first major college football player to come out as being gay, and apparently the whole team knew for a year and it was no big deal in Pinkel's program. Whatevs. Michael Sam likes guys - so what?
Then Pinkel has a team meeting last weekend on the race issue at Mizzou, takes a couple of photos to tweet and indicates the team won't play until the situation with the president and the hunger strike is resolved.
That's action vs inaction, folks. (see photo of football team after Pinkel's meeting below, click on it to make it bigger)
Go ahead and try to remove Pinkel after his next 4-7 season, Mizzou. I double dare you.