David L. Cohen gave the following remarks at the Aspen Institute's Symposium on the State of Race in America this morning in Washington D.C. You can watch live here and follow on Twitter using the #stateofrace hashtag.
Thank you, Charlie
And good morning, everyone.
On behalf of all of us at Comcast, I want to thank Charlie and his colleagues at the Aspen Institute for hosting this important dialogue on race in America today.
In 1937, Gunnar Myrdal published his highly influential study of race relations in America, which he titled "The American Dilemma." Myrdal concluded that America's democratic ideals of equality were in such conflict with the ugliness of racism there would eventually be enough pressure on White America and the inevitable result would be reform that would eradicate unequal treatment of African Americans.
Everyone did not agree. For example, Ralph Bunche, who contributed thousands of pages of research material to Myrdal's study, didn't believe that White Americans felt any real guilt about the unfair and unequal treatment of African Americans — and that, therefore, no conflict was really present.
Seventy years later, it turns out that both Myrdal and Bunche were right. In some ways, Myrdal's dilemma has been solved. In other ways, however, the dilemma is more enigmatic than ever.
In the 1930s, having an African American, Hispanic, Asian American, or Native American sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, or as the head of a major corporation, or occupying the White House, would have been unthinkable.
By the same token, I hope it would have been just as inconceivable to have enormous equality gaps between Whites and persons of color in high school and college education, in income, in incarceration rates, and in access to health insurance. Just by way of example, persons of color in America today are literally twice as likely to drop out of high school and three to six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.
As we sit here today in 2011, it is painfully clear that while some people of color have reached new highs in society, in government, and in business, too many people of color have lost significant ground in education and economic status.
So we still face an American racial dilemma.
And those intervening 70 years have brought other dramatic changes. When Myrdal wrote his study, the issue of "race in America" was mostly about black and white. Today, the discussion is multi-hued, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural.
Due in particular to the unprecedented growth of our Hispanic population, America is well on its way to becoming what we've come to call a "majority minority" nation in less than 40 years. Today, non-Hispanic Whites comprise just under 65 percent of the population — and by 2050, will merely be the largest minority.
Yes, our nation is changing — rapidly, and more dramatically than at any time since the great European immigrations of a century ago.
And those who read our history know how wrenching these changes can be.
From the very infancy of our nation and the treatment of the first Americans — the Native Americans; through our tragic history with slavery; to the in-migration of the early 20th century; and the stories of prejudice and squalor and denial of opportunity that met many immigrants — we have always faced great challenges in living up to our American ideals. And through most of our history, we have risen to the challenge and unlocked the potential of our nation's people time and time again.
Can we do the same in the 21st century? Or will we succumb to the risk of leaving too many Americans behind? That is our new American dilemma.
In the media and communications business, we understand this dilemma — and we recognize that building on the opportunities offered to us as a result of diversity in our workplace, a diverse supply chain, and diverse community investment partners, is a business imperative. It is also a national imperative.
At Comcast/NBCUniversal, we understand the demographic trends of America and we want to take advantage of the market opportunities presented by a diverse audience as well as enrich the product that we deliver to our customers.
But more than that, we understand that the continuing vibrancy and leadership of our nation depends upon having a well-educated, globally-connected workforce — and we know that we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
In 2011, I'd suggest it's not guilt that's going to drive resolutions to our 21st Century dilemma on race — it's necessity and self interest. And they are much more powerful motivators.
So what is the state of race in America in the 21st century? I think it's a new, richer, and fascinating dialogue — and I am delighted we can be part of it today with our friends at the Aspen Institute.
I am looking forward to an interesting and engaging conversation. Thank you for being here.