|Letter . . . to a White Associate
Another Call For Respect - A Response to O.J. Simpson Trial Backlash . . . By Henry E. Ford
Dedicated to those whose lives have been lived and sometimes ended to
further the belief that in the eyes of God and in the words and spirit of
the Constitution that all men and women are created equal.
When will Americans be justifiably comfortable and secure walking
upon The Bridge of Understanding? When will that bridge, designed by
the word of God, built upon the foundation of freedom and maintained by
the dignity of good men and women of all races, cease to be constantly
and dangerously eroded by the actions of such an very few?
Letter To A White Associate,
I chose to communicate with you in this manner for several reasons. The
written word carries with it the opportunity for review and reflection by both the
writer and the reader. In verbal communications, we often begin preparing a
response to something that has not yet been completed expressed. This
letter does not allow you that opportunity. The issue at hand requires that I
completely and accurately express what I feel and believe, without the
possibility of becoming engaged in heated emotional and later misquoted
rhetoric. Should you choose, you have the opportunity to consider my
position in the surroundings and at the time you desire. You can choose to
reread, analyze, confer with others, reflect upon or implement any of many
techniques available to you to aid in your consumption and evaluation.
Before you continue reading, let me assure you that this letter contains no
negotiable points. I will not debate nor will I discuss its content with you. This
letter is the complete expression of what I offer to you on this subject at this
time. These are my experiences, thoughts and reflections, untarnished by the
media and undaunted by the possibility of reprisal.
If and when something you read becomes offensive to you, consider that you
have been notified that such a probability exists. If that occurs, my suggestion
is that you place the letter in the garbage and continue with your life,
undisturbed by the possibility that what I have written might have any value
Regardless of your decision, thousands and perhaps millions of individuals
will eventually read this letter and hopefully benefit from its content. Over
thirty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the historic "Letter From The
Birmingham Jail." One might ask how I can even remotely equate this letter to
that historic and eloquent document. When Dr. King wrote the "Letter From
The Birmingham Jail," America's conscience was asleep. Today, more than
thirty years later, it still has not fully awakened. The reality is that in some
respects, America is drifting toward a comatose state.
There are no doubt many that would ask who I think I am, and what gives me
the nerve to believe that I can help shed light on a sometimes dark world.
The answer is simply that I have decided that I am going to do what I can, with
what I have, right now! I have not been supplied with a list from God of
individuals that appoints them to, and excludes me from being the partial
solution to our challenges. Therefore, if such a list does exist, I entertain the
possibility that my name might be on it. And if I am not the one to help bring
that light, let those critics and more highly qualified individuals step forward
and be heard. I will not shrink from the responsibility of bringing positive
change, because of the possibility that I might fail.
I am certain that someone somewhere, perhaps many people in many places
might write their own "Letter To A Black Associate." That is certainly
permissible and encouraged. I would hope that if any of us are as smart as
we sometimes believe, that with our capacity to walk on the moon and live in a
world of microchips and lasers, we just might be able to find peace and
understanding on earth.
What I have written is not about what someone said on their corporate
supported, special interest, character assassinating talk show. What I have
written is not the master plan for fixing the problems of some statistical and
mystical two-thirds of an individual. What I have written is personal and
factual. I have personally long endured the status of token, the assumption of
affirmative action recipient, and the mouthpiece of welfare, crime, and
incompetence. How Long? Too Long!
Over 2500 miles from where either of us live or work, an event has occurred
over the past few months that has immobilized the thought process and chilled
the blood of millions of potentially sane Americans. The tragedy of Nicole
Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman was devastating to all involved.
Heaped upon that tragedy was the O.J. Simpson trial, which has warped the
minds and poisoned the hearts of many Americans. The trial has created
back seat lawyers from individuals, many of whom prior to the trial didn't even
know when to stop for a school bus. It has turned politeness into lack of
courtesy, turned friends into acquaintances and threatened to turn back race
relations another twenty years. It has caused many to seek and focus upon
their differences, while ignoring and minimizing what common beliefs they
The hours that many spent in front of the television would have been
sufficient time to obtain a college degree. The time that many spent listening
to the trial on radio would have been sufficient opportunity to digest hundreds
of self-development tapes, or relax in soothing, mellow music. The occasions
that many spent critiquing, criticizing, finger pointing and rationalizing might
have been better used to raise the level of consciousness and compassion of
those around them. If the children in our schools or the elderly people in our
nursing homes could have received the time and attention given to the trial,
just think what a better country this might be. We have ample time to criticize
the system, but not enough time to improve it.
One indisputable fact about the O.J. trial is that regardless of how many times
we looked at and listened to the news, we saw the same selected excerpts at
11:00 P.M. that we saw at 10:00 P.M. that we saw at 7:00 P.M. that we saw at
6:00 P.M. that we saw on all the "Stay Tuned" messages. None of us ever
saw or heard what was supposed to be ALL the relevant testimony. None of
us except the jury.
You said that you would be offended if you were a black person and someone
was trying to pressure you to vote for acquittal. I would be offended if I had
been a juror and voted for acquittal, and someone presumed that I did it
because I was black.
During only a small portion of the time that America was preoccupied with
events in Los Angeles, events they could do nothing about, I was engaged in
writing my second book. Ironically that book, entitled The Power of
Association, speaks directly to the issue of which you have been misinformed.
The book challenges, encourages, coaxes and directs all Americans, yes
even African Americans to be a part of positive associations.
The Power of Association does not tell the fairy tale of Cinderella, nor does it
recall the All-American Family of Dick and Jane, but it relates the experiences
of positive association of an African American male. It relates the growth that
took place in that individual, working within both predominantly white and
predominantly black organizations. It relates a story of the individual who sat
in your office and listened as you decided the mindset of thirty million African
Americans, most of whom you have never met.
You see, I am not the Black Lone Ranger. I am mentor or mentee to
hundreds of African Americans who still visualize ripples of possibilities in an
ocean of improbabilities. Much of the support I enjoy in sharing the message
of hope, responsibility and accountability, is the support of African Americans.
I am not relating what I read or heard, I am sharing what I know. I personally
know many of these people, including an individual voted one of the top five
motivational speakers in the world. And no one I know has ever heard him
coddle a radical, but millions have listened as he shared the beliefs of
individual accountability and responsibility.
Contrary to what you might have read and heard, the people who taught me
the qualities which have brought me this far are primarily African Americans
because they are primarily the ones who believed that I could rise above
mediocrity. In disguise, I am one of the best friends you have, for while many
preach and teach 'get over' and 'get even,' I bring the message of hope,
individual responsibility and peaceful co-existence.
Having known me personally for over fifteen years, you have had ample
opportunity to develop some understanding of my beliefs. That
understanding does not need to rest on the often-questionable basis of
personal disclosures. Our sometimes close relationship afforded you the
chance to witness my firm foundation of demonstrated character, competence
and commitment. That makes it all the more painful for me to listen as you
share a belief that all African Americans in this country think within the narrow
confines of a philosophy which typically is opposite your own. If amid claims of
understanding, you can believe that "good" white Americans distant
themselves from radical whites, yet "good" black Americans do not distance
themselves from radical blacks, then what do the "bad guys" believe.
The mental illness of radical thought which has infected the American belief
system has incubated for almost four hundred years. The prognosis for
improvement lies in the ability of all of us, black, white, red, yellow and
whatever else, to rise above this sickness. There is no first aid kit or
vaccination that will cure the dreaded diseases of racism and discrimination,
whether those diseases affect race, religion or gender. One of the antibiotics
necessary for recovery is effective leadership. You are in a position of
leadership. If you expect positive change, then you must help lay the
groundwork for that change. Even though my training and experience is not
in the field of structural design, let me assure you that the house of
brotherhood cannot stand on the weak and shallow foundation of accusations
Allow me to shift momentarily from the micro to the macro. Allow me to move
the focus from myself to the larger, more universal, more dynamic and less
controlled national scene.
Currently there is a gathering being planned for Washington, D.C. called "The
Million Man March." Its purpose is to raise the awareness and responsibility
among African American men. Even with that very noble agenda, African
American leaders and followers are not in agreement regarding participation.
The concern relates to the very inaccurate and inappropriate accusation you
Some African American leaders feel the organizers are too radical, so they
PUBLICLY disassociated themselves from the march. This action fails the test
of the theory of the "single interconnected mind." These facts are not locked
into any "black inner circle," unavailable for your consumption. These
disagreements are in Cleveland's daily newspaper, but you have to look past
the O.J. trial to find them. This is a primary and timely example of how African
Americans 'forgot' that they are all expected to think alike.
During the 1960's civil rights movement there were highly publicized
ideological differences between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X,
both of whom enjoyed a large following. Again, African Americans 'didn't
realize' that they should all think alike.
You know of my experience as a part-time newspaper reporter. Some African
Americans didn't care for what I wrote, but many others did. We 'kept
forgetting' that either we all had to be radical or we all had to be conservative.
It's almost as though we have brains and feelings and concerns like other
It is amazing how many self-proclaimed 'liberal' white Americans continue to
lack the ability or the desire to open their minds to the possibility that all
African American minds are not interconnected. Victimized by the media of
radio, television and newspapers which are almost entirely white-owned,
operated and controlled, listeners and readers continue to focus upon the
perceived differences of race. Consider that when the general media
reported the difference in how blacks and whites felt about O.J.'s guilt, they
didn't highlight differences of educational level, profession or age. Unbiased
surveys will ask these questions, but forgive me for regressing into reality, I
almost forgot that unbiased surveys don't sell newspapers.
It is not surprising that these same newspapers carry stories of dissension
and disagreement between African Americans. Within those stories is the
underlying but valid evidence that proves all African Americans do not think or
act or live alike.
I call your attention to the disagreement between factions of the NAACP that
debated the direction of that organization during 1994-1995. The debate
related to radical versus conservative viewpoints. This debate was in
Cleveland's daily newspaper for weeks. It wasn't hidden away in a "black
only" secret meeting place. I know some white Americans read it, because
some of them asked me to explain it, which is additional proof of the
inaccurate perception that my mind is interconnected with thirty million others.
I don't even belong to the NAACP, but maybe that's why I should. I don't
expect my white friends and associates to know of the disagreements in all
I never expected my white friends and associates to explain the Emmett Till
murder, or the rapid acquittal, or the callous remarks of several jurors. I
never asked them to explain the four teenage girls blown to bits while
worshipping in a church in Birmingham, or the young black man chased to his
death while trying to purchase an automobile in Bensonhurst. I never
expected my white friends or associates to explain the Florida tourist doused
with gasoline and set on fire because he was a black man. You may not have
seen that article. It was not on page one with the senseless killings of white
African Americans have not received credit for many of the things they did
discover and do. It is both incredible and ludicrous that so many are so willing
to give us exclusive ownership to the undesirable actions of violence, jury
threatening and ignoring evidence.
Speaking of justice, you might ask yourself how an African American
congressman from Illinois was recently sentenced to a five-year jail term for
having sex with an underage female, while a white Oregon legislator who
imposed himself upon dozens of females over a period of several decades,
You obtained from me a copy of my book Success Is You. I invite you to look
within the pages of that book for any support of radical people or positions. I
invite you to locate any two consecutive pages that do not address the issues
of accountability, responsibility, education, training, motivation, inspiration,
dedication, work or similar concepts. Ask yourself if these are the attributes
related to African Americans as reported on the six o'clock news, and if not,
ask yourself why not. Ask yourself if a country which has been spreading
propaganda for almost four hundred years is likely to stop and tell it like it is.
And this is not a black issue. Remember the Indian, who used to roam this
entire continent until over 95% of the treaties they signed had been violated.
Remember the smallpox-laden blankets given to their women and children by
those in search of freedom from oppression. Ask yourself how those who go
back on their word had the audacity to coin the term 'Indian Giver.' Ask
yourself why it was so easy for Boston police to round up hundreds of black
youths based upon the word of one white man, the same man who turned out
to be the real murderer. Ask yourself who were the first people Susan Smith
thought to involve in her kidnapping hoax. Try to remember if I came into your
office to discuss any of these events.
You need to understand that the longer and harder you persist and insist in
believing all the propaganda that you are presented with, the more difficult it
becomes to actually learn and reflect upon your experiences. African
Americans, European Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, all of
us are tired of bearing the time worn burdens of yesterday. Unless and until
we can become a part of the solution, we will continue to be a part of the
Be assured that my experience, my memory and my research would make me
a formidable opponent to anyone who wishes to point fingers and become
involved in racial accusations. Let me assure you however that I will not be a
party to that demoralizing and unproductive process.
I recall shortly after becoming a teenager, being chased from East 109th and
St. Clair Avenue by older teenagers and their parents for the 'sin' of riding my
bike in the wrong neighborhood.
Later I remember being detained by a Maple Heights, Ohio police officer and
told "We don't want your kind here." I recall going to the old Cleveland Trade
School in a protective circle formed to ward off racial attacks, seven African
Americans at a school of hundreds.
I remember the father of an acquaintance who was beaten with baseball bats
until he became a near vegetable, living his final years with grotesque facial
distortions from the beating. His crime was being a black man walking his
dogs in the peace and serenity of Gordon Park.
I experienced being turned down for jobs which went to academically less
qualified white classmates who easily admitted that even they didn't
understand. I remember after taking the test to join the military, being called
into an office in the old Standard Building and being asked "How could you
have done so well on this test, with your aaah. . .background?"
It was I who sat on the back of the bus in several southern states, proudly
wearing the clean, crisp, highly decorated uniform of the U.S. Army. Yes I,
squad leader in basic training, attendee of Non-Commissioned Officer's
School, expert rifleman, member of an award winning drill team, soldier of the
month . . .but STILL on the back of the bus. Yes I, Specialist Fourth Class
Ford, with cryptosecurity duties and interim top secret clearance, drawing P-1
professional pay based upon job performance . . .but STILL on the back of
I was the one fired from a job for, according to enlightened management, "Not
having enough interest in my work." This startling discovery was made by
management after 105 consecutive days of absent-free, tardy-free
employment and attendance without any reprimand or warning, and ironically
the day after I allowed a shivering white female employee to sit in my car until
the door to our West Side employer's manufacturing plant was opened. It was
the same plant where workers cheered the assassination of President John F.
Kennedy, and one co-worker asked me "Well, what are you people going to
It was I who watched my younger sister suffer the mental trauma of having
bricks thrown at her through bus windows near Collinwood High School, while
she was trying to get the education many whites claim we don't seek. I was
the one who sat in a meeting with tie wearing, 'educated' staff members at the
very place you and I know so well, and experienced the pain of the words "Let
the niggers in the shop do it." I was the one who tried unsuccessfully to
explain to my then twelve year old son why some West Side Cleveland
parents threatened him the first day of class, before he could even get off the
school bus. And at the same time I was trying to teach him to respect all
In the very department you supervise, I am reminded of one particularly
unproductive and inflammatory comment from an otherwise valuable and hard
working employee. That comment was "Henry, since you're black, maybe you
can tell me why Kevin Mack took drugs." We lost this remarkably diplomatic
individual during the ravages of downsizing. That part of her does not need
to be replaced. Suppose I had run to you for you to straighten her out. Given
our recent conversation, I suppose you might have asked, "Well, why did he?"
Today I am the one in a virtual prison of isolation as I walk down the grocery
store aisle at age fifty-four, somewhat respected and always respectable,
nationally recognized, retired with several sources of income. Yet I am also
the one who simultaneously marvels and suffers as brainwashed, misdirected,
educated, 'broadminded' Americans suddenly frown and close and tightly
clutch their pocketbooks.
So let me make this as clear as the scriptures and as pointed as a sword.
Each day of my life I and millions of African Americans live what others only
read and hear about, and often times simply ignore. Ironically what they read
and hear is often based on information from those who will never have
occasion to "walk a mile in my shoes." The life story of many African
Americans is an unending nightmare of gigantic proportions, the magnitude of
which you cannot envision. There is a reason that I do not normally dwell on
what I have shared with you in the last nine paragraphs. It is because I do not
hold you or any white person accountable for the actions of others. Not one
time have I entered your office and expected you to be able to explain why
these things occurred or why this mindset prevails. In fact, I wrote an entire
book about my experiences, and only shared two of these very negative and
disturbing situations. At the rate of two negative situations per book, I could
write another half-dozen and still have books to write.
I am typically not on the same page as those who dwell upon the negative. I
have temporarily turned to that page with the hope that you might awaken to
the world as it is. I chose to be your news reporter for just a few minutes, just
to strike some balance into what you are exposed to on a daily basis. I have
spent more than sufficient time being the victim.
Some time ago, I made the decision to try to help educate and motivate my
brothers and sisters by going into schools, churches, organizational meetings
and other places and sharing positive messages and experiences. Part of
that message is to encourage them to rise in the face of adversity. Part of
that message is to work on the individual and not blame the system, even
though the system has plenty of faults. My efforts are known to you and I
suppose if there were any white people who needed uplifting, you would be
involved trying to educate, train, motivate, inspire and calm them. I will not
take part on a journey into the past, except as it relates to the process of
I am paid and rewarded in other ways to bring positive messages. I am the
one with two motivational self-help books produced by a major publisher. I am
the one who has self-published three booklets. I am the one with over
twenty-five letters from grateful students, parents, teachers and
administrators. I am the one who earned national recognition for bringing
investment education into the African American community. I am the one with
more awards, plaques and trophies than I have walls or tables upon which to
place them. I am the one who has gone on radio programs three times in two
months sharing what I know of success with grateful listeners. I am the one
who has spoken with audiences as diverse as a North Carolina Chapter of the
NAACP, and a group of all white workers in a remote section of Northwest
Ohio - and received referrals and endorsements from both groups. And even
with all that, I am not the one to explain the actions of thirty million African
Americans with a variety of experiences, ambitions and beliefs.
Your worst nightmare is that you should wake up tomorrow morning and find
that all African Americans are like me. Then the United States would need
another scapegoat. Incidentally the deficit in the United States would be much
greater today were it not for the 4.1 trillion dollars of value contributed by
slave labor between 1619 and 1865. And the balance of payments would
dramatically improve if some of the labels stating "Made in Taiwan," were
replaced with "Made in Watts."
I consider the unsolicited opinions of race, politics or other social issues to be
extremely detrimental to the very fragile relationship that exists between us.
You have a considerable number of options at your disposal should you feel
the need to further discuss these issues. I suggest that attempting to impose
your values, thoughts and beliefs upon me is the very last of those numerous
options. I would further suggest that you thoroughly investigate all other
options before again confronting me with regard to the actions or the inaction
If you are still with me, please consider the amount of pain and discomfort that
was necessary to cause me to take the time and effort to compile and
produce a forty-three hundred, seventy-two word response to what I consider
a lengthy series of inappropriate comments and conversations. Let me
assure you that I no longer intend to bear this pain and discomfort alone. You
hold the key to a peaceful coexistence between us. The good news is that
there is no effort required on your part to bring about this coexistence. I have
closed the door on our dialogue except with regard to official business. Be
assured that I will not reopen it, and I pray that you will not reopen it. I ask
that you have the common decency to now, henceforth and forever, share
your beliefs and opinions only with those who seek them or welcome them.
I ask that you use the time you would have allotted to our narrowly focused
discussions to exercise the single word but ultimately valuable motto of the
IBM Corporation, "THINK!" If that process fails to relieve the very obvious
distress you experience with African Americans, I respectfully and
passionately suggest that you seek professional help.
Henry E. Ford
THIS I KNOW AND PROCLAIM!
ANYONE who is convinced that they are superior to ANYONE ELSE,
based upon their race or gender needs to understand that they have
been misinformed. For approximately nine months (plus or minus a
number that is not relevant) you simply laid around in your mother's
belly, and then you just "popped out." You cannot take the credit
and you are not to blame for anything that occurred up until
that time! INSIST that others judge you by your works, and
knowing they will often judge in error, realize that they judge in
ignorance and they alone are the owners of that ignorance!
Henry E. Ford