Last week The Janitor wrote an excellent piece on "Racial Bias & Merit." He referenced a powerful study in which several law firm partners across the country where presented legal memorandums written by law associates. These memorandums contained a slew of strategically placed errors. Those partners were given a racial identity to the memos and we saw first hand that racial bias is very much still alive in the workplace (despite what Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain believe) and pretty much inevitable. Essentially, as African-Americans we are the color of our skin. No matter how much we try to fight it, this is what it is. I personally don't know when or how we will get over this, as a people, but in the meantime we have to live with this nonsense and figure out ways to excel beyond the preexisting barriers put in place for us. That old saying couldn't be more prevalent than in the context and outcome of that memorandum study -- "if you're black in America you have to be ten times smarter and ten times better than your white counterparts." It's unfortunate and quite frankly it pisses me off, but that's the world we live in.
I'm presently reading "Setting the Table" by Danny Meyer (CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group) and he has a pretty spot on philosophy that ties into this very discussion. Mr. Meyer subscribes to "The 51 Percent Solution." The theory is that on a scale of 1 to 100 on a suitability test, the technical skills of a candidate should only account for 49% and their emotional skills should account for 51%. To assess the 51% of emotional skills, his company has a list of "nine specific traits that define the mindset and the character traits" attached to that skills set. My favorite of these traits that he highlights is "Character." Here is a portion of Mr. Meyer's definition
“Overall, integrity and self-awareness are the most important core emotional skills for managers. You must be self-aware enough to know what makes you tick. You have to understand your own strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. You need to surround yourself with a team of people who will mirror your integrity but complement and compensate for your strengths and weaknesses. That’s critical. There is absolutely an art to surrounding yourself with great advisers and effective auxiliary sets of eyes and ears. These are the leaders on whom you must rely to present you with timely, accurate, balanced information and to apply constant, gentle pressure on your team so that you can move your company decisively forward.”This is precisely why I am perfectly okay with Columbus Short not returning for season 4 of "Scandal." Let's be clear, I don't know the full intricacies of this decision. I'm not sure if Shonda laid down the law and fired Columbus in the dramatic and empowering manner that I have fictionalized in my head. However, I know that Shonda Rhimes embodies the traits of character that Danny Meyer has described above. Shonda Rhimes must surround herself with a team of people who mirror her integrity!
What Columbus Short failed to realize was that this television show, Shonda Rhimes, his cast mates and the historical and social impact it is having, are bigger then him. Shonda Rhimes is shattering glass everyday that she is allowed to do any type of work in Hollywood. There are some people who believe that a show with African-Americans cast in lead roles could not be successful. Shonda cast two (Kerry Washington and Columbus Short) and blew it out of the water. She strategically cast the lead male power figure as a Caucasian. There are a number of other strategic elements that Rhimes applied to this show as she did with her other shows - Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. Shonda is trying to setup shop to make serious moves in television. I recently heard Ken Chenault (CEO of American Express) say that you have to learn to operate within the mainstream, in order to make true impact outside of the mainstream. This is precisely what Shonda Rhimes is doing.
Are you telling me that Columbus Short couldn't see that?
Did Columbus Short not understand what he was a part of?
That legal memorandum study gave us a clear picture -- there are still people who believe that African-Americans are less than. Taking it one step further, when we apply gender to that formula and make the individual a black male -- forget it! Black Men are fucked! Black Men are feared and expected to be less than stellar individuals. The worst is expected of them, especially in the media. As a 31-year old black man in this country, working in "Hollywood," Columbus should know this. Something tells me he does, but just didn't give a shit. Columbus Short failed to understand his strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. He also lacked the maturity and self-awareness to know what makes him tick, so that he could remove himself from those situations or completely avoid them altogether. Columbus Short had a moral responsibility to be better than a person who lacks maturity and self-awareness.
The only conversation we should be having is on the content of Shonda's current shows and her future projects. Negative attention on the personal life of any of the actors or other staff members of Shondaland is counterproductive to the bigger mission at hand. Columbus Short's personal matters were a distraction and they were slowly growing into a poisonous vine. He had to go!
But hey, what do I know?
1. Let's pretend that Shonda Rhimes did fire Columbus Short - was she justified in doing so?