Guest column: Moving on up
I recently moved from the third floor to the ninth floor of a 10-floor condo residence. It reminded me of the sitcom "The Jeffersons." Mr. Jefferson, an African-American, is able to "move on up to the east side to a deluxe apartment in the sky," thanks to the success of his dry-cleaning business.
I don't know that I felt more important as a result of my "move on up," but I did have a better view of the mountains.
Not long ago, I attended the "Disadvantaged, Minority and Small Business Seminar" hosted by Don Marostica, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The seminar outlined the economy and the future role of "DBEs," minority and small business in Colorado and ended with an emphasis on opportunities for the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise community.
All of a sudden it hit me that I was a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. After some 40 years of being an entrepreneur, I realized that according to my government I have been disadvantaged all of that time. I have not been promoted to equal business status, achieved success that led to the elimination of the terms minority or DBE. I was to be a minority or DBE for all my business life. The labels minority and DBE had been part of our sense of being for so long it seemed normal to be a minority business.
I asked myself who made the decision that I was to be a minority in America? Who decided that I had to be disadvantaged to be in business in America? Who had the right to make that decision? Leave it to the United States of America and Congress to label us with demeaning labels for all of our lives. When does it end?
Discrimination has certainly been a part of our collective existence for the last 200 years. Congress in its infinite wisdom created programs of inclusion and then in order to justify those programs gave us demeaning labels that don't ever seem to go away.
There is no doubt that the terms minority and DBE affected our ability to operate on that mystical "level playing field." We were literally forced on big business by set-asides from local, state and federal mandates. We were suspect in our ability to deliver a product, achieve an on-time schedule and in general be successful. In fact, even today we know that big business is hesitant to acknowledge we are real and that we are here to stay.
America is changing, and it's time a new perspective, new reality and new image are in order. If you haven't noticed, minority communities now constitute more than 100 million Americans or one third of America's 300 million people. Asian, African, Hispanic and Native Americans are growing significantly faster than the general population and the residual effects are dramatic. Note the following:
• Minority communities contribute $2.7 trillion of America's economy.
• Our combined communities now have significant political power.
• Minority communities will decide who future presidents of the U.S. will be.
• America's minority communities are the new and fastest-growing consumer markets.
• Minority businesses number in the millions.
• We will be providing much of America's future work force.
• Minority communities constitute a minority/majority of the city and county of Denver: 50.2 percent.
The terminology used to describe our communities is outmoded and unrealistic. With 43 million Hispanic Americans, 42 million African-Americans and some 15 million Asian and Native Americans, we should qualify to be Americans without hyphens.
It would appear to me that much goodwill could be accomplished by using terms such as Small Business Enterprise and leave it at that. I am not a minority nor am I, as a small business, "disadvantaged."
Our collective minority communities have a way to go. Much is said of the new millennium, and maybe it's possible that demeaning terms that currently define us many yet disappear. It's the year 2010, and maybe this is our time to "move on up."
Edward O. Romero is managing partner of Romero & Wilson Public Relations in Denver. He has nearly 40 years of management experience in business, telecommunications, community relations, government affairs and marketing. He can be reached at (303) 803-2941 or firstname.lastname@example.org