You may have heard that the former Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, said the one line that many of us have heard throughout our lives, “I don’t see color”. Here’s my response to that statement.

Dear Howard Schultz (and everyone else who has ever said, “I don’t see color”),

How are you?  I hope you’re doing great and enjoying your day.  Can we chat for a minute? I really appreciate the fact that you’re a direct, logical thinker so hopefully you won’t mind me being direct.  I get what you’re trying to do when you say you don’t see color.  I understand the sentiment behind that statement.  You are trying to say that people are people and as Michael Jackson put it, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”.  That may work in songs, but it can really hurt individuals, and more importantly, hurts businesses in the real world.  I’m sure you’re wondering “how can that statement hurt anyone?  It literally means we’re alike.”  I’m so glad you asked.  Let me tell you a short story.

We haven’t had the pleasure of meeting but thanks to a quick Wikipedia search I’m going to go out on a limb and say you were, at some point, a huge Seattle Supersonics fan.  I also use to work in professional basketball for the Memphis Grizzlies, so I know the level of devotion to that team that comes with those relationships.  Imagine for a second that we’re back in 2006 and you invited me to a game to sit with you in your box.  Your only caveat was, I had to “supersonic” it up.  I had to go all out and dress in head to toe supersonic gear to show that you (and as your guest I) were superfans.  That really mattered to you because the Sonics were a part of your identity.   Obviously. I’d comply and I’m sure I’d have a great time. 

Because I’m a proper southern lady, I’d send you a thank you note that may go something like this:

Howard, Thank you so much for the awesome experience!  I had a great time and haven’t stopped telling everyone about my time at the game.  While reflecting on it yesterday I realized something, I don’t see you as a Seattle Supersonic fan.  I just see you as a basketball fam.  The team you claim to be a part of is cool and all but that’s irrelevant, I’ve listed you in my phone contact as Howie the B ’ball fan.  Thanks again!

How would that make you feel?  Would you feel like I just took something that was a part of your existence and dismissed it for no reason?  When you saw me next would you try to hide the fact that you loved the Sonics because you felt like that made me think of less of you?  Would you invite me to another game?  My guess is that would have been my one and only time as your guest because I refused to acknowledge something was a part of you. Being affiliated with the Sonics helped define who you were, and I ignored it and chose not to see it.  The same is true when people say they don’t see color. 

But hey, we’re all adults and I sincerely believe your heart is in the right place on this so we can move past misunderstandings like that… right?  Probably, but at what cost?  The true value of diversity is the unique and varied perspectives of each different person but if all people are the same (we’re all just human) how do we capitalize on the unique and varied perspectives? We’ve all heard that 2 heads are better than one and that’s true but only if those 2 heads come from different perspectives.  So, the questions businesses need to ask is how do people gain different perspectives? 

The answer is easy, from experiencing different things.  If you and I walk into the same store and interact with the same clerk to buy the same item, we will not always have the same experience.    That’s because the world interacts with us differently.  When I ordered an expensive glass of bourbon at a bar ($50 a pour) the bartender asked if I was sure I could afford it.  I doubt that’s ever happened to you (so now when I design customer service training programs, I’m certain to address how to handle a situation where you are concerned you may not get paid).  When I was potty training my daughter, I learned that the automatic flush toilets aren’t good for children.  Do you know why, have you experienced that?  It’s fine if you haven’t (but since I have, I can help organizations determine what type of toilet to install where).  We’re not suppose to have the same lives as anyone else but if you don’t see my color you may miss the unique ideas, I can bring to the table that come from walking through the world in my body instead of yours.  If you don’t see my gender, you’ll miss the things I’ve experienced that you haven’t, and you may miss the unique ideas I can bring to a marketing campaign or product design meeting because of it.  If you don’t see value in our economic differences, you may miss out on the way to position a product to someone in my tax bracket as opposed to yours. 

Seeing my color and gender and socio-economic status and education and neighborhood and sexuality and everything else about me that makes me different from you is the only way to truly see me as an individual and to truly benefit from the ideas and knowledge that I bring to the table. 

Seeing me for the unique individual I am is what gives me the confidence to represent the groups you need to hear from in a meeting.  It makes it ok to add the black perspective or female perspective or southerner perspective and every other perspective I can add.  If a person doesn’t want to see my color, then I feel like they don’t really want to see and work with or even talk to me. 

Like I said, I get it, this stuff is hard and awkward and uncomfortable but ultimately, I want the same thing you want, the ability to add to the success of every group I’m a apart of.  I want to feel comfortable sharing my knowledge to make every organization and company I work with better.  I want to be seen. 

Sincerely,

Christy Pruitt-Haynes

A married cis-gender black mother and aunt from Nashville who was raised and educated in the south and loves travel, wine, coffee, laughter, debate and music

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Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting works with organizations and individuals to help them on their quest towards professional excellence. If you’re facing significant change, unprecedented growth or stagnant results Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting will help by providing customized tools to solve problems, increase employee engagement, improve leadership capabilities and increase profits. As a Speaker, Trainer and Coach, Christy will provide diversity of thought, enhanced communication, improved leadership and a maximized corporate culture. CPH Consulting will help grow your business!

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