Anti-Racist Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World
James D. White with Krista White
Harvard Business Review Press (March 2022)

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” Hillel the Elder

As you may already know, the concept of what Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham aptly characterize (in 1955) as “the unknown unknowns.” That is, ignorance of one’s ignorance. This is is probably what Mark Twain had in mind when observing, ” It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Yes, it is very important to recognize what our specific knowledge needs are, relevant to the given situation. It is even more important to recognize that we may think we know — but in fact do not know — especially what needs to be known when a serious question must be answered or a serious problem must be solved. The first step is to separate facts from opinions. The next step is to verify the facts. Only then can we formulate an enlightened decision based on those facts.

With rare exception, racism is based on prejudices (pre-judgments) that, in turn, indicate one or more biases. In many instances, racists are unaware of their biases. These unknown unknowns tend to be sustained from one generation to the next.

James White has written a book — with the assistance of his daughter Krista — in which he shares his thoughts and (yes) his feelings about how to “transform corporate culture in a race-conscious world.” That is a formidable task. James O’Toole suggests that the greatest resistance to change initiatives is cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Hence the importance of anti-racism leadership at all levels and in all areas of operation within the given enterprise.

White views his book as “part memoir and part practical field guide for CEOs and other leaders who are looking to transform their company culture to suit the needs of a new decade.” OK, but racism has been evil since 6800 B.C. when the world’s first city-state emerged in Mesopotamia. Land ownership and the early stages of technology bring war. Enemies are conquered and those captured are enslaved. Be that as it may, White offers a series of specific steps that all business leaders (within and beyond the C-suite) should take to eliminate systemic racism. It’s not just time to do it.  It is a long-overdue moral as well as legal obligation.

Details about the HOW are best revealed within the narrative, in context, but I can at least suggest that White seems to have wide and deep experience with establishing or strengthening a DEI culture, one within which Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are most likely to thrive. His recommendations are practical and doable.

These are among his concluding remarks: “We are facing a great unfinished symphony now. As business leaders, we have a unique opportunity to make history guiding the country to a reality in which capitalism and the American Dream work for [begin italics] everyone [end italics] — and we will all be better off for it.”


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