At the recent GrowCo Conference in Nashville, I was sitting with anticipation in between two African American entrepreneurs on one side and another female entrepreneur on the other. We all agreed that we were prepared to hate the next speaker, Mark Cuban, an American businessman, investor, and owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks who built quite a reputation for speaking his mind on controversial topics. It’s like he said – we’re all guilty of holding prejudices, and from everything my companions and I heard about this shark, we certainly had our opinions.
But we were wrong. The man speaking wasn’t the arrogant bigot we were expecting. We listened to a straight-talking businessman with a refreshing brutal honesty who wasn’t afraid to dive headfirst into a tough subject in order to provide a new and humbling perspective on humanity. He wasn’t referring to a Donald Sterling type of discrimination. Rather, he was simply discussing what every person falls victim to – one of the many flaws that make us human. He was attempting to make a nuanced point about society’s challenges dealing with racism and even admitted to having his own prejudices. But the message Cuban succeeded in making blatantly clear struck every viewer in the room to his core – that many factors go into our reactions to others. “We all live in glass houses,” he said, so he, like the rest of us, are reluctant to throw stones.
According to psychologist Gordon Allport, prejudice and stereotypes emerge as a result of normal human thinking. In order to make sense of the world around us, the human mind naturally categorizes people. There are people that are “in your circle” and those that are “outside of your circle.” It’s a natural tendency for people to experience “stranger danger” around those who exist “outside of your circle.” It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Then why, as a society, are we so quick to slap a negative connotation on anything race-related that emerges from the mouths of fellow Americans. It only takes one slip of that well-trained, 24-7 filter to end a career.
So before you jump down Mark Cuban’s throat, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions honestly. Have you watched with quiet disdain, the heavy woman on the subway and thought to yourself, why doesn’t she stop eating? Have you witnessed your wife making less money than the men in her office? Have you scoffed at a young millennial and instantly labeled him or her into the self-entitled generation? Have you believed the old lie that if you are over age 50, you can never leave a job that you hate? I’d be shocked if every answer wasn’t a resounding yes, even though most of us wouldn’t admit it out loud.
My new entrepreneurial friends and I applauded the man who brought to the forefront silent discrimination and may we all be better people for it. Let’s face it, if America wants to have an honest conversation about prejudice, we need to stop ignoring that it exists and condemning the people brave enough to start one.