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Letter to the Editor: Springfield doesn't 'need' more diversity

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Wrong thinking reared its ugly head on the front page of the Springfield Business Journal recently. An article in the Sept. 13 edition entitled, “Diversity in Development” and subtitled “A 92-percent-white Springfield poses problems for economic development,” demonstrates just how weak-minded even strong and well-respected leaders can be. The article cites unidentified companies that have decided to pass on establishing operations in Springfield because the city lacks diversity.

Let’s stop and think about “diversity” as a corporate value. What economic value is there in diversity? How does diversity result in the creation of more or better widgets or whatever your company produces? How does diversity increase the level of service your company provides to customers? How does diversity make you a better corporate citizen? How does diversity increase your company’s return to shareholders? How does being more diverse make you better?

If diversity is better, shouldn’t the NBA diversify and sign some short guys, and shouldn’t the NFL sign some skinny guys, and shouldn’t the football team have more girls and shouldn’t the volleyball team have more boys?

This notion that diversity is a value to be cherished or pursued is weak-minded. It comes from the elite who relish lecturing us on what’s wrong with us, but who really have no idea what our significant issues are and offer no significant solutions.

Springfield is mostly white – 92.4 percent white, says the 2008 census. That’s a fact. The corporate elitists and chamber of commerce members who want to make it a problem are engaging in anti-white prejudice. They are saying “too much white” and “too little color.”
They’ll be the first to tell you that we shouldn’t judge a man by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. Why, then, does the fact that Springfield is 92.4 percent white matter?

It doesn’t.

Can you imagine the chamber of commerce in Detroit saying, “The problem in Detroit is that our population is 87.7 percent black – we need more white folks to increase our diversity.” Can you imagine going to Laredo, Texas, and saying, “The fact that Laredo is 94 percent Hispanic poses problems.” The uproar would be instantaneous and vociferous, and you’d be called a “racist.”

I don’t know why Springfield is so White Anglo-Saxton Protestant. Other parts of Missouri aren’t. The Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas have significant nonwhite populations. Many parts of north Missouri have black residents. I’d venture to guess that the southern part of Missouri is white because our ancestors were independent-minded rebels, loners, hunters, fishermen and trappers.

Though improvements in transportation and technology have opened the doors of our parochial enclave to the rest of the world, the belligerently independent mindset of this region remains ingrained in our politics. Taxes are fiercely low. Most of us who live here are suspect of those who don’t, particularly those who work in Washington, D.C.

Missouri’s 7th congressional district hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress in more than 50 years. For better or worse, this is Bush-McCain country. Clinton, Kerry and Obama aren’t at home here. Sarah Palin is a heroine, and some think Hillary Clinton is the devil. That’s not a political statement. It’s a reality.

The company I own employs minorities. Only three have ever applied, and one still works for us today. That’s 66 percent of minorities who applied who got hired. White folks don’t have nearly that good a record with our company, so maybe I am prejudiced against them. Who knew?

I’m not all lathered up about protecting the white man’s spot. I am all lathered up about people missing the point and failing to understand what does and doesn’t matter.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was right! It’s not about the color of your skin. It is about the content of your character. It’s not about the accent with which you speak. It is about the values you affirm, including individual freedom and self-determination in an atmosphere of right behavior and right thinking. Where we disagree is on the definition of “right” in terms of behavior and thinking; it is about persuasive reasoning and passionate logic articulated amid respectable dialogue.

If diversity means welcoming, then I’m for diversity. If diversity means recruiting and posturing to assuage our guilt for the great life with which we’ve been blessed, or if diversity means being different for the sake of being different, then I think we leave it alone.

Does Springfield need to be better? Undoubtedly. But does Springfield need to be “less white”? Not necessarily. Those who think so have been sucked in by wrong thinking, and they’ve altogether missed the point.

—J. Barry Watts, Springfield
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