At the dawn of a new decade, we have arrived at a moment unlike any other in the history of our beautiful nation. We have endured the brutality of slavery, we have survived the pain of Jim Crow and we have overcome segregation to declare our dignity and equal rights. We witnessed and participated in one of the greatest achievements in the history of our country when we elected our first black president, Barack Obama. And here we stand, with great opportunity, this year, this decade, to once and for all, emancipate ourselves from the mental slavery that is limiting our society and our people from moving forward.
To remove these shackles forever, we must take advantage of the opportunities that we have created. To me, during segregation, the black community was strong, because we had black dentists, doctors, drug store owners, grocery store owners, and many other business leaders providing our community with care and services. Integration came and although it gave us much more freedom and liberty, it also presented new challenges that we continue to face. New cultural and entrepreneurial groups came into our communities and took over many of these businesses and destroyed potential economic opportunities. However, now more than ever, the 89% of this country that is not black, is thirsting to buy our products and follow our cultural lead. If we ignore this 89%, we will never be able to move forward. We should not limit ourselves to just interact and do business with each other. I don’t want to address just 11% of the population. I want to speak to100% of America. If I had segregated myself and my businesses when I started Def Jam, then I never would have brought Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC to the Mud Club in the Village, which was a White club. Black people didn’t like rap music, they rejected it at first. It was the White press that made us popular…the first time I heard my record on the radio was in Amsterdam on a Dutch station! I say all this, not to criticize you, but to challenge you to recognize your power.
I am saddened by many of my peers who continue to perpetuate the notion that diversity is wrong. When black TV executives compare the multiracial programming I produce to “black” shows on their networks, it reminds me that we are also responsible for limiting ourselves. When online “black” gossip sites make an issue of inter-racial dating it exhibits our own responsibility for not progressing forward. If you only interact with “your group” in university or the work place, you not only do yourself and your company a disservice, you diminish the possibilities of a generation. We have nothing to fear from integration because our culture is the New American Mainstream, the entire world is embracing us. It’s our time to be open to the world. At this point in our history as a people, we must uplift each other and encourage each other to change how we see in the world. It is honest integration that the next generation is bringing and they are challenging the old guard to step down and stop their old ways. Similarly, too many mainstream companies today are limited by their inability to honestly integrate some of the most powerful American ideas because of their lack of diversity. To speak to the new America, you have to completely rethink your “diversity” approaches in an integrated, fast-forward way, or risk being overtaken by an unstoppable tide of demographic and cultural change.
So, as we enter this new decade, let’s practice loving everybody and everything. Let’s be proud of our diversity and make sure it means what the word actually is supposed to mean. Let us not be agents for others to co-opt, let us be the agents of change. It is the wisdom from having experience and inside perspective from the most important cultural phenomenon our country has ever seen that this new generation carries forward. And d**n, it is exciting.
Written by Russell Simmons for Global Grind