Being colorblind has advantages

December 14, 2018

One of the best parts of life in New Mexico is how little attention people pay to race, at least compared to most of America.

Few are surprised when someone of Mexican descent wins election as the state’s governor, becomes a captain of industry or lands a job as a school superintendent. Those stories are common in New Mexico. They’ve been going on for decades.

Just as telling, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber campaigned hard on the heavily Hispanic south side and received almost as many votes in that ward as its resident candidate, three-term City Councilor Ron Trujillo.

Webber’s strength was a show of how level the playing field can become. Prejudice lives on, but credentials and effort often matter more than skin tone in Santa Fe.

Race was a burning topic in the many other cities where I’ve lived. It was much rarer in those places for an ethnic minority to win a high office or be hired for an executive job.

It still is. Many of America’s powerful enterprises remain stuck in the politics of race and the rage that comes with it.

This extends even to the National Football League, a multibillion-dollar business that receives even more air time than President Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels.

NFL owners this week convened for a special meeting to discuss a certain lack of diversity in their business.

About two-thirds of the league’s players are black. But only one-quarter of the head coaches were black when this season began. The number of black coaches has since declined with the firing of Cleveland’s Hue Jackson.

So team owners want to strengthen what they call the Rooney Rule. Named for the late Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, it’s a means of helping black coaches obtain interviews when any of the 32 NFL teams are hiring a head coach.

Critics of the rule say it diminishes minority candidates with a system of tokenism. Rooney had a different view based on the cold realities of his business.

Players are evaluated based on speed, strength, intensity and intelligence. But their personal connection to someone in power rarely figures into whether they make an NFL roster.

Coaching jobs are much more political. This revives a question that has gnawed at the NFL for decades.

Would a white owner be comfortable with a black coach? Is there a social sphere that excludes black coaches from receiving serious consideration when a vacancy occurs?

Like executives in every company, team owners will say race does not matter to them. Still, most of them hire white coaches in a league overwhelmingly made up of black talent.

Rooney wanted to at least expand the pool of coaching candidates. Decisions on hiring remain in the hands of owners.

The Rooney Rule is imperfect. Some black assistant coaches have rebelled, turning down interviews because they knew the job was already wired for a white candidate.

Black coaches who get hired, such as Rooney’s own Mike Tomlin, face the sort of antagonism that should have ended decades ago. Critics call Tomlin an “affirmative action coach” and claim he won a Super Bowl only because of talent assembled by his white predecessor.

Watching this part of America from afar makes working in Santa Fe all the more attractive.

True enough, New Mexico lags behind most of the country in important areas, such as reducing poverty and improving literacy.

But when it comes to issues of race, New Mexico is better off than many places. There are no war-size headlines because somebody with dark skin lands an important job.

Who knows? In 10 or 20 years, New Mexico might have as much diversity in its economy as it does in its workforce.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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