In an atmosphere replete with allegations of discrimination regarding black victims where the evidence is questionable, now comes a case that is absolutely discrimination. In early May 2016, the Cumberland County School Board voted 6-2-1 for Vernon Aldridge to replace Leon Mack as the school system’s activities director. Aldridge is white and Mack is black. Board members Carrie Sutton and Judy Musgrave, both black, voted against Aldridge. They also voted against his appointment when it came before the personnel committee on which they serve. Alicia Chisolm, black board member, abstained from voting when the full board considered this appointment. Mack, the outgoing activities director, is retiring.
The possibility of discrimination shows up in the reasons given for the “no” votes by Sutton and Musgrave. Their thinking is reported by Catherine Pritchard, The Fayetteville Observer staff writer, in an article headlined, “School board taps Vernon Aldridge as activities director amid controversy.” Pritchard writes:
“Sutton said then she couldn’t support Aldridge’s appointment because she felt the school system should have looked harder to find a qualified minority candidate for the job. She said she believed black students, particularly young males, need to see black people in leadership positions to imagine their own future possibilities.
Asked then if she agreed with Sutton’s position, Musgrave said she did. Later, she said she was agreeing that the school system needs more minorities in leadership position in general. She said her opposition to Aldridge was because she didn’t feel he was qualified, not because he is white.
Given what Pritchard reports as reasons given for the actions of Sutton and Musgrave, a bit of information on identifying discrimination follows. From FindLaw under “Discrimination in the Workplace:”
The primary federal laws that address racial discrimination in the workplace fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In large part, the section often referred to simply as “Title VII” prohibits employers from: 1) failing or refusing to hire an employee based on their race; 2) firing or disciplining an employee because of their race; 3) paying an employee less or providing them fewer benefits on account of their race; 4) failing to provide benefits, promotions, or opportunities, to an employee because of their race; 5) improperly classifying or segregating employees or applicants by race.
Examining Carrie Sutton’s explanation as to the reason for her vote in light of this quote from FindLaw, cries “discrimination.” By Sutton’s admission, her vote was based on Vernon Aldridge being white and not black. Because of his race, she voted not to hire him. Under Title VII, that is discrimination.
As for Judy Musgrave saying her vote had nothing to do with race but with Aldridge not being qualified, she should be required to explain the reasons for that position. The explanation is needed because her comment comes in conjunction with Sutton’s discriminatory votes. I can find no evidence she has been called on to make her case. There is silence.
Back to Sutton and her stated reason for voting against Aldridge. Imagine Sutton being white and Aldridge black. If the races of these two people were reversed there would be an outcry of major proportions and it would likely be led by media and organizations that claim great interest in freeing our society of discriminatory practices. Instead, with very few exceptions, there is silence across this city and county.
Be on notice, silence in cases such as this is dangerous. People who sense the wrong, but are quiet because of fear eventually respond. That response is not necessarily violent. It could simply be packing up and moving to another area or putting their children in private schools; thereby, allowing public schools to suffer. This city and nation are crying out for leaders who are thoughtful, fair to all and have the courage of convictions to deal forthrightly with difficult issues.
Dealing forthrightly with difficult issues often requires individuals in positions of leadership to move beyond talking and do some hard work. What I see time and time again, is “passing the buck.” Carrie Sutton’s reason for voting “no” to the assignment of a white person to a position being vacated by a black man reflects some “buck passing.” She holds “the system should have looked harder to find a minority candidate.” What is the responsibility of blacks in positions of leadership and all black Americans when it comes to working together to prepare our own so they qualify for positions of high responsibility? Instead of doing the hard work of preparation, of lifting one another, the resounding chorus is for the “system” to handle it. Too often the “system” is expected to go against the rules and even defy common sense in order to calm opposing or demanding voices.
On preparing our own, here is how it looks. During my teenage years, Daddy was a building contractor. He built single-family homes as well as repaired homes in and around Camilla, Georgia. When I was about 13, he started taking me to job sites, especially during the summer. I worked, but also learned a bit about building. By the end of my junior year in high school, he had left building. That summer Daddy told me he and I were going to build a house for a lady on the eastside of Camilla.
The first day on the job, he went to purchase building materials and left me at the house site. When Daddy returned I was sleeping in the wheelbarrow. He woke me up but as I lie in that wheelbarrow, Daddy stood near my feet, looking into my eyes. He explained that his reason for contracting to build that house was so I would have work for the summer. He never raised his voice… just gave me a brief overview of life and what it demands of a person. I got up and over the summer we built that house. I got an education on building and on living.
I spent the next summer working tobacco fields in the state of Connecticut. After the first year of college, it was back to Camilla. I went looking for a summer job. Public housing was under construction and I went there. This was the summer of 1966. Segregation was still alive and well in Camilla. I asked the white project foreman for a job and told him I could do carpentry. He did not believe me. I said, “Let me work a couple of days and if I don’t measure up, I’ll leave with no argument.” I worked the whole summer cutting fascia boards and other lumber pieces that were then installed by a white carpenter.
Daddy prepared me for that job and so much more of the successes I have known in life. He had to invest in me, struggle some with me and call me to account. There were no TV cameras, no newspaper reporters telling what this black father did for his son. Except that I tell the story, nobody would know.
I tell it now only to illustrate what I believe is needed in our time. That is, for black Americans to break free of calling on the “system” to fix all that we see as ailing us. Further, be careful not to attempt manipulation of the “system” against others as in Vernon Aldridge’s case where I hold there is discrimination. Instead, follow Daddy’s example and be about helping one another prepare to lay hold of the many available opportunities.