Monday, June 13, 2005

MH - They Just Don't Get It

Well, we're back. Successful move. That is, if you don't mind living out of boxes for awhile. But I'll tell you, a balcony with a view of the skyline of Minneapolis more than makes up for any inconveniences. It will be a while before things return to normal here at the Hadley household ("normal" being a relative term), but we'll keep blogging as time permits.

In the meantime, Peter Wood has a good article on NRO today about Wachovia Corporation’s “apology” for their connection with slavery. It’s a tenuous connection at best – the Georgia Railroad Company (which through a tangled series of mergers wound up as part of Wachovia) “owned or authorized to be purchased” 162 slaves between 1836 and 1842. Another company now part of Wachovia, the Bank of Charleston, “accepted ‘up to 529’ slaves as collateral for securing loans or mortgages.”

So Wachovia apologized for their role in the whole thing. Here’s a priceless gem from Stan Kelly, president of Wachovia Wealth Management: “As a white man, I’m working to get personally connected to this chapter in our company’s and our country’s history…”

Gag. Don’t you just love it? Wood did:
It sounds to me like poor Stan has been to one too many diversity-training workshops. Let me help, Stan. First, don’t try to respond to this “as a white man.” See if you can respond just as a serious person. In that light, neither you nor the company you work for bear any particular responsibility for antebellum slavery. You didn’t trade railroad stock for an enslaved blacksmith. You didn’t take slaves as collateral for loans. You have not traded in human souls. Nor has your company. Offering, as you do, “heartfelt apologies on behalf of Wachovia” is, at best, an empty formality. You cannot apologize for that for which you bear no responsibility. Doing so “on behalf of Wachovia” demeans your colleagues who are guiltless of holding anyone in bondage.

I wasn’t sure I’d find an example of corporate-speak quite as stupid as the “work/home balance” memo I posted last year, but this one sure has to be a contender. What’s troubling about this is one of two things: either corporate diversity training has stripped employees of the ability to think or speak for themselves, or – even more alarmingly – this is how they actually think. But then, considering the rash of corporate scandals we’ve seen recently, as well as the legal but immoral treatment we’ve seen many employees receive at the hands of Corporate America, we should hardly be surprised that Wachovia has decided to divest themselves from logic and reason.

Wachovia is undoubtedly trying to proactively head off some kind of protest from Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or some other professional agitator (in fact, the whole thing started with a requirement from the City of Chicago to “ ‘disclose any historic ties to slavery,’ in order to continue its involvement in an affordable housing project”), which makes their action all the more gutless. Like so many denizens of Corporate America, they’re just enabling the special interest groups that are doing so much damage to American society. So what on the face of it may appear to be a moral action – apologizing for past offenses – in fact can be a deeply immoral act, leading to all kinds of consequences, done not for altruistic reasons but as a kind of preemptive blackmail payment.

“We are responsible for our own acts, not those of men who lived more than 150 years ago,” Wood writes. Indeed, perhaps Wachovia should look at the results they’re reaping from their current actions. Wood:
Your odd “as a white man” e-mail confessing your shame over Wachovia’s history
reached me though an acquaintance who works in Wachovia’s Wealth Management division. I am struck that any company that really wants to manage other people’s wealth ought to have a more robust view of personal responsibility. Are Wachovia’s clients and shareholders to be expected to help Wachovia pay down its imaginary debt to those who claim to speak on behalf of the victims of slavery? Your e-mail doesn’t say, and Wachovia’s website is likewise silent on the issue. But it is hard to think that a company that commissioned an itemized account from the History Factory of the transgressions of its predecessor companies is going to stop with CEO Ken Thompson’s press-release apology “to all Americans.”
As a side note, one of the more interesting facts buried in the article is that there are some 400 “predecessor institutions” that make up today’s Wachovia, which may be more of a justification for the theory of Distributism than anything I’ve written previously.

Read the rest of the article here, including Wood’s excellent closing point: “But if we are all going to apologize, I don’t want to be the last in line. I apologize for the role of higher education in so ill-equipping some of America’s business leaders that, when they are faced with grossly defective moral reasoning, they see no option other than to embrace it.”

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