It was no surprise when BP’s Tony Hayward was forced to step down as the g0-to guy for day to day oversight of the BP oil spill. Hayward, who’d previously, remarked that he “wanted his life back”, was the epitome of an elitist class which made only the most perfunctory of efforts to connect with the masses, behavior emblematic of corporate profiteers.
His evasive testimony before Congress infuriated Members of Congress and solidified the impression of him as a snobbish Brit who is dismissive of, if not contemptuous to, the needs of ordinary folk. After such a brash showing of disregard for the environmental destruction and economic hardship which his company’s negligent actions caused the Gulf Coast, Hayward was understandably removed from his post, after which time, he immediately resumed his life snug in the lap of luxury.
The question for BP then became; who would be the anti-Hayward? Who could arrive on the scene with credibility, emote real feeling, and relax the tension which existed between BP and the American onlookers who were already cynical of BP’s motives, and critical of BP’s bumbling crisis management efforts?
Enter Darryl Willis, BP’s new claims manager. Willis, an African American, entered the scene with the feigned reassurance that we’ve come to expect from those in the business of handling claims. Queue actor Dennis Haysbert, the African American face of Allstate. You’re in good hands. It now seems that those in positions of power have rightly concluded that there’s a tried and true recipe for creating an air of trustworthiness; add one negro.
In America and the world, African-Americans are viewed with a certain deference which is not extended to our white counterparts. The unique experience of having suffered oppression means that those in similar circumstances look to our shared suffering, and feel comforted knowing that we understand their plight. And yet, our collective suffering is near its end as we’ve now been bestowed the full rights of citizenship in the richest, and most powerful country in the world.
Our evolution centers around the spiritual lessons learned from our dual citizenship. We hold both the collective knowledge of past suffering, as well as the present power inherent in American citizenship -the power to end suffering. We are a living and breathing dichotomy. Our history is our gift, but how we use it, or should I say, how we allow others to use it and us, is our choice.
In the ramp up to the Iraq War, Colin Powell was paraded before the United Nations as the face of the Iraq War. When Powell tossed that fake bag of anthrax onto the table, and fumed about how dangerous the Iraqi regime was – the world believed him. They shouldn’t have.
Secretary Powell was being used by power hungry neo-cons in the Bush Administration to put a kinder, gentler, and yes – blacker face on the impending war. Powell wasn’t package Cheney, George Tenet, or John Bolton, but was instead a hard working African-American soldier who’d come up from the ranks. He was one of us. And more importantly, he arose from a class of people who were all too familiar with being unfairly persecuted and as such, wouldn’t dare dream unleashing the fury of the American military upon another country without ample evidence. At least, this is how Powell was viewed by the world, and a key reason why the U.S. was given the go-head to invade Iraq.
Now, fast forward to the emergence of Darryl Willis as front man for BP. Did anyone notice that Mr. Willis emerged onto the scene just as authority to settle claims was being transferred from BP to an independent fund managed by Kenneth Feinberg? Hence, Willis’ power is auxiliary at best, and purely aesthetic at worst.
But Willis was placed front and center of the BP mess as a trinket of good faith. He is, as was Powell before him, being used to advance an agenda which directly contradicts the lessons of Tubman, Douglass, Malcolm and Martin.
Put a happy face on an ugly war. Add a virtuous face to a fiendish corporation. The moral capital of African-Americans is being depleted by the very same imperialistic factions who unwittingly bestowed upon us a crown born of sorrow.
Like Michele Obama, I am proud of my country. But it is one thing to assimilate and feel the pride that follows from appreciating what you and those before you have contributed to this nation; it is another thing altogether to be used by those whose aim it is transfer the unfairness once reserved solely for African-Americans to other groups and populations. Assimilation does not equate to dis-identification with one’s past. Can someone please make certain Mr. Willis gets the memo?