Dear Editor:

In response to the Panera Bread issue, the idea that African-Americans are not in positions to interact with the public is something that we accept and do not question unless there is a media firestorm.

This is a problem in many industries. This supports the need for there to be more African-American owned businesses. Most small businesses hire in this fashion: first you hire family, second friends and third persons that look and fit into your culture.

This is not always a racial issue. (The Panera Bread issue, if proven to be true, is a racial issue.) When you see a small White owned business that is racially diverse, it is an intentional act by the owner. My first ad agency job was with a small ad agency that was willing to go against the norm. (Most ad agencies, even the so called big ones, are very small businesses working with a core group, of independent contractors and freelancers, thus they manage to escape the diversity issue, especially in Pittsburgh.)

The owner at my first agency job allowed me to interact with clients. My first few years in the industry I never saw another African-American in a public position. In fact, I would be the only African-American in the building at most ad industry events I attended, except for servers and janitors. Today little has changed. African-Americans support these practices by not asking questions and burying our heads in the sand. Does your bank hire Blacks? Do they really do business with Blacks? Are their diversity programs real? Look for the people behind the numbers. Does your auto dealer hire Black sales people? Do these corporations you support advertise in Black-owned media? When’s the last time you purchased goods and services from a viable Black business? When you are on a board or committee choosing suppliers, do you speak up for Black-owned businesses? Do you give Black-owned businesses the same respect that you give others? Or do you expect a great discount because they are Black-owned, thinking that they should be glad you are doing business with them since you can give your business to someone else?

We must wake up and quit being fooled by smoke and mirrors. Look to see if there are real jobs and contracts behind the tinted glass. You vote for discriminatory practices when you choose not to be alert when you purchase from a Panera Bread or any other company.

Russell Bynum
(Russell Bynum heads Bynums Marketing & Communications, Inc.)

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