BLACK LIFE IN CORPORATE AMERICA by George & Glegg Watson Davis


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You wouldn't guess it from the humdrum title, and the authors themselves don't stick with it--but this report on black corporate managers (based on 160 interviews, employing tools of sociological analysis) is, most notably, a plug for the black corporate style as an underutilized asset in America's global trade war. Davis and Watson, a writer/journalist (Coming Home; Love, Black Love) and Xerox's Manager of Affirmative Action, also do the expected: two opening chapters deal with the token black managers of the 1950s, and the affirmative-action and backlash ranks of the 1960s-'70s; the next, excellent chapter explores why blacks ""bother"" (the pay--but also a piece of the action, a chance to shine); and we hear, off and on, about the ""differences"" ascribed to blacks (less intelligence, the wrong cultural values), the resulting discomforts (one woman, off on a plane trip, was told how to check her luggage; a man testifies that ""I never let them see me drinking or. . .""); the overall penalty (few blacks, however high up, have positions of responsibility over others); and the modes of coping--workaholism prominent among them. But the book owes its punch to one interviewee, ""Willis Thornton"" (identities are protected), and the chapter built around him, ""Manchild in the Mainstream."" Thornton, ""a black black,"" came up via the streets of Washington and the Freedom Movement, Harvard (""a special program"") and Harvard Business School: ""What I did in B-school was refine my stuff, not give it up."" He's outspoken about ""the black man's desire to have an individualized style"" (as are others) and, from his gang experience, to have leadership ""he respects""--two deficiencies in the white corporate world responsible, Thornton thinks, for today's low productivity. Still, he has a dream: ""Corporate life is like. . . baseball before Jackie Robinson. You're going to get a crazy Branch Rickey-type white man as a CEO, who's going to come out of a dugout in a losing cause and signal for a bad black dude like Cliff Alexander, or me""--a CEO who'll say: ""I don't care if I get booed. . . I want to win and I'm going to field the best player."" The authors refer elsewhere to ""the NBA effect""--yet diffuse the message with a conventional plea for creativity and imagination, and for women's values as well as blacks'. But the book's moments of candor and insight commend it to the attention, alike, of B-school types, affirmative-action adherents, and the crossover audience for social-interaction studies.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday