When you read some of the remarks by (I assume) white commenters on al.com, you almost have to come to the conclusion that Steven Hoyt is the devil—some kind of black racist. Councilor Hoyt is the City Council representative from Birmingham’s District 8.
Councilor Hoyt regularly seems to be in the headlines standing up for African-American inclusion when there are economic opportunities for individuals or businesses created by the City of Birmingham.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Last week Jeffrey Bayer, President and CEO of Bayer Properties, and I spoke at the Birmingham Business Journal’s C-Suite awards. The BBJ annually recognizes high-level executives in the Birmingham business community. Sitting at the head table, I looked across the room and saw very few black faces.
Was that the fault of the BBJ?—absolutely not. I attend lots of meetings and events where I interact with top business people. I don’t see many African-Americans there either. And this is not a Birmingham thing. It’s the same when I travel to conventions and conferences throughout the U.S.
Have I just revealed some great unknown secret? I think not.
So what’s the point?
When I talk with folks all over our region about a better metro Birmingham, I’m often told the reason we are not competitive with our peer cities is because race is a much bigger issue here.
That is true. Race is a big issue here—but not because people in Birmingham are more racist.
I play a game when I speak to groups. I tell the audience I’m going to name a city—and I ask them to define that city by race. I begin with Mt. Brook and Vestavia Hills and the audience gives me an enthusiastic—‘white.’ Then I say ‘Birmingham’ and most everyone responds with a strong—‘black.’
But when I propose ‘Nashville,’ there’s usually a short stunned silence—and then a response of ‘white.’
Is Nashville a white city?
Nashville is a diverse city, but Nashville and Davidson County are consolidated into one entity so racial differences are minimized.
Birmingham is one of 37 municipalities in Jefferson County—many of which are defined by race.
I live and interact primarily in the white community. I find our white community to be generous and hospitable. My friends and neighbors are no more racist than the folks in Nashville. We in metro Birmingham have created an uncomfortable environment by segmenting our governments.
Now back to Councilor Hoyt.
I know Steven. He’s a brave young man who doesn’t mind saying publicly what many of his constituents are thinking.
The folks who manage our suburbs aren’t waking up each day with a desire to create diversity. So is it wrong for Councilor Hoyt to stand up for his constituents?
I’ll let you answer that question.
But if metro Birmingham is going to be competitive—we must find a way to unite our communities so we can quit squabbling over race.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).