NCTA's Powell Urges Industry to Take a Stand

The following is a transcript of NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell's speech on diversity during the 2019 Walter Kaitz Dinner.

We typically speak of diversity with a smile. It is a topic infused with the positive belief that a pluralistic society with an ever-expanding definition of “Us” is a better world.

NCTA president & CEO Michael Powell

NCTA president & CEO Michael Powell

But diversity and inclusion are also euphemisms. They let us disengage from more painful truths about our society. We openly help the historically disadvantaged but closet away the history that made them disadvantaged in the first place. By that I mean the “barbaric system of slavery” and its lasting aftermath.

This year is the 400th anniversary of slavery in America. The year 1619 was the start of a 250-year run in which black people were not considered humans but instead were merely property that could be bought and sold at will and lawfully beaten, raped and killed.

The New York Times in a must-read series on slavery makes a compelling case that 1619—not 1776—is the true origin of America. If one looks with fresh eyes you will see that every facet of contemporary life in this country is rooted in slavery. As the Times wrote:

“From Slavery grew nearly everything that has made America exceptional—its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, diet and popular music, the inequities of our public health and education, it’s astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as the land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.”

Our forefathers casting themselves ironically as slaves to the British Crown, declared their independence with these soaring words “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” As these words were inked, 20 percent of the population was in chains. As the Times pointedly said, “we are a nation founded on an ideal and on a lie.”

While the ideals are etched in our monuments and form the vision we try and project to the world, it is the hypocrisy of the lie that America has had to continuously confront—often bitterly and often violently.

There have always been two ways to rectify the lie of our founding ideals. 

The first is to simply write blacks (and women) out of the group of people entitled to equality and God-given rights.

This approach has dominated our history. Slaves were property not people. Freed slaves were a separate and inferior race and not entitled to the benefits of citizenship. Supreme Court law, Read The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight it., David Brooks. Pseudo-science, politics and religion all seeded and nurtured the toxic myth of racial inferiority.

A myth that underpinned two centuries of laws and public policies designed to keep the descendants of slaves starved of the fruits of American democracy.

There was always a more faithful and humane path to making America a more perfect union. It could eradicate the lie and make “equality for all” the truth. For a brief period after the Civil War, the country experimented with doing just that. Blacks served in Congress, received land, built businesses, and attended universities. But this blossom flowered only briefly, choked by the weeds of Jim Crow laws, fertilized by a belief in white supremacy.

But Black Americans never stopped fighting to be full Americans. A long, bloody struggle led to the 13th and 14th Amendments and groundbreaking civil rights laws. These efforts wrote the playbook later used by women, LGBTQ people, and other groups to win their full rights.

But lies die hard. This country has a long investment in the racial inferiority narrative. Murder in El Paso, white supremacy in Charlottesville, child separation on the border, and chants that “they will not replace us” dims the light and spreads the darkness. Slavery existed for 250 years, but we have only been legally free for 50. Progress is precarious.

Diversity is wonderful. But it is only meaningful if the equality of all people is protected from those who want to go back to living the lie. To be a true diversity warrior requires more than championing the values of pluralism while sitting in air-conditioned offices. It requires we stand.

Stand against the suffocating heat of racism.

Stand against hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Stand against the oppression of women.

And stand for the fundamental equality of all, giving true meaning to our founding ideals.

We have traveled very far from the shores of Point Comfort where the first slave ships landed, and we cannot go back. As black leaders at the time of the Civil War said to those who urged them to go back to where they came from.

“This is our home, and this our country. Beneath its sod lie the bones of our fathers. ... Here we were born, and here we will die.”

I am proud to be part of an industry that is committed to making America a more perfect union.

Thank you

See Also: Diversity Week Highlights Cable’s Continuing Efforts