Jesse Jackson Finds Wall Street Bullish on Diversity

Lucas Morel

February 3, 1998

It was bound to happen, and one wonders why Jesse Jackson didn’t think of it sooner. Last week, the head of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition finally took his tin cup to Wall Street and asked them to pony up their share to promote “diversity” in the financial services industry. With waning influence on the Democratic Party, Jackson has turned to big business to rejuvenate his faltering image and clout. Amazingly enough, he seems to have found a sympathetic ear among the targets of his criticisms.

Known as the Wall Street Project, this latest effort of the veteran arm-twister of blue chip companies asked Wall Street’s heavy hitters for “a minimum financial commitment of $50,000” to help with Jackson’s lobbying efforts in New York’s financial district. The kick-off event for 1998 was a three-day conference featuring speeches by President Clinton and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, along with workshops to help minorities and women pursue careers in business. The result? Companies like Merrill Lynch, Prudential Insurance, and the New York Stock Exchange jumped onto his diversity bandwagon. A fervent supporter of affirmative action, Jackson claims that “inclusion” and not preferences is the goal. But in other statements, he implied that the financial services industry has long closed the door on minorities and must now reach out to bring them in.

Calling the lack of investment in the inner city a “vision deficit disorder,” Jackson went on to suggest that financial institutions keep minorities knocking on the door of opportunity, instead of letting them in. “Don’t shackle us,” he exclaimed, “and deny us the right to participate in the global marketplace.” Leaving aside the absurd allusion to slavery, just what company does he think keeps minorities from providing their services or products to the buying public, and where did this company get so much power? Does he really believe significant numbers of minorities fail to succeed because “the economy” shuts them out?

Unfortunately, enough heavyweights on Wall Street were bullish on this latest boondoggle of Jackson’s to keep his hope alive, contributing almost half a million dollars during the three-day conference. The final day saw Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt Jr. announce that the SEC will soon sponsor a number of “diversity roundtables” across the country to foster business diversity. “The truth is,” Levitt declared, “Wall Street serves America-but it does not yet look like America.” In other words, identity politics has now become just another a cost of doing business in the United States.

This seems to buck the recent political trend away from affirmative action. But there are at least two reasons why Fortune 500 companies are chanting the mantra of diversity. First, companies with deep pockets have decided it’s cheaper to hire by color than to defend themselves against discrimination lawsuits. With Texaco, Salomon/Smith Barney, and Denny’s reeling from out-of-court settlements totaling in the millions—to avoid, they suppose, even more costly trial judgments—big business has decided that peppering their workforce with the “right” number of minorities and women is more cost efficient than hazarding a discrimination lawsuit. Of course, these large companies now claim that diversity is simply “good for business.” Thus diversity roundtables, sensitivity training, and managerial incentives for hiring and promotion by color and gender are becoming the norm.

Second, few politicians have argued to eliminate all affirmative action programs. Even the conservative-leaning Supreme Court has yet to rule that the Constitution completely bars government from using race in their decision-making. Most public officials who seek to eliminate racial preferences quickly add that affirmative action can still be maintained, but targeted towards financial need. This has led to public debates over the wording of ballot propositions—”racial preferences” versus “affirmative action”—but yielding no principled reasons why government “outreach” itself is a dubious enterprise. When the government presumes that a segment of society is incapable of getting an education or finding a job without special treatment, it violates the very principle of human equality upon which self-government rests. Because no politician of national repute has made the case for equal treatment under the law, big business has decided to subordinate its hiring and promotion policies to the arbitrary requirements of racial diversity.

As a presidential candidate speaking at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Jackson declared that “Democracy guarantees opportunity, not success.” Unfortunately, consistency has never been his strong-suit. Jackson consistently promotes racial preferences to ensure the “success” of racial minorities in higher education and the workplace. By tying the theme of the Wall Street Project, “expanding the marketplace,” to racial and gender considerations, Jesse Jackson perpetuates racial-mindedness in the American people. And with big business touting the value of diversity, even political trends may not be able to prevent an increasingly racial consciousness from taking hold of the public mind.

Lucas Morel is an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.