Magazine article The Nation

Racism: A Profit & Loss Statement

Magazine article The Nation

Racism: A Profit & Loss Statement

Article excerpt

The new version of the tapes was released to the press and bore fruit useful to Texaco. It was widely reported. In his column in The Washington Post Richard Cohen brooded on the fact that "the accusation of racism--unproved though it may be--has become the functional equivalent of what communism used to be. It can cost you your job, your benefits and what used to be called your good name."

It was unclear whether Cohen thought Texaco had been race-baited into the sort of public obloquy that would leave its board with no alternative but to seek merger with another oil company of better reputation. He himself pointed out that of its 873 execs earning more than $106,000, only six are black. But overall, Cohen's thought seemed to be that the N-word makes you a racist, and if you turn out not to have used it, then to a measurable extent, you're in the clear.

Cohen was not alone in his reprise on Texaco's moral standing. Even before the tape enhancement there was a tendency in the press--I caught one such headline in The Wall Street Journal--to talk about Texaco's P.R. "problem," as in "Hitler's P.R. problem or "the Hutus' P.R. problem." In other words, ethics are not at issue. It's all a matter of poor public relations. The newspapers featured many more column inches on Bijur's promenades through the talk shows with ashes on his head and sackcloth around his loins than on probes of substantive racism at Texaco, where employees like Marsha Harris had described to Koppel that "there were meetings that I was in attendance...and there will be comments to say, `O.K., we can start the meeting now, because we have our token black here.'"

But where does Cohen get the idea that accusations of racism finish you off in today's society? Not in the public sector, certainly. To the contrary. They improve your career prospects, unleash a torrent of foundation money and prompt lucrative invitations to taLk shows and so forth. …

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