The sins of fathers, including the Founding Fathers, visit their iniquities upon the sons of multiple generations. The sins of the past endure throughout industries large and small, including the insurance industry. The sins exempt no one, while they are a chance for everyone to repair the breach: to learn from the past and earn the trust of African-Americans.
The history of racial discrimination is too long to summarize in a column and too indescribable, except to say healing starts when hearing begins; when insurers take the time to listen to African-Americans; when listening translates into action — by and for African-Americans — so communication can flourish and insurers can succeed.
That insurers have a duty to listen, that African-Americans also have a right to a hearing, that the two intersect is reason to proceed with the hard work of reconciliation. Hard though it may be, and difficult though it will be to hear of hardships borne by innocents, insurers cannot overcome the sins of the past unless they understand how innocents continue to bear the burdens of other people’s sins.
According to Dennis Ross of StoryConnex.com:
“Very little is monolithic in the African-American community, with one exception. The memories of abuse by insurance agents who barged into the homes of elderly grandmothers to sell policies nearly by force. Today, while homes receive a knock, ZIP codes signal higher interest rates and premiums. Insurers must not only diversify their agent base but create and market plans that reward those living in areas they once punished.”
Ross speaks of what he knows, not because he opposes insurers, but because he supports those insurers with a commitment to diversity and respect. He invites the insurance industry to lead by example, so other industries may act without delay.
Ross speaks of the need to speak truth not only to power but through the empowerment of African-Americans. He also speaks to a need — an inchoate sense among the decent and just — to do better; to expect better; to receive (and reciprocate) acts of betterment.
Insurers should follow Ross’s advice, so the industry may communicate with greater respect toward African-Americans. The diversity of communication, from marketing to advertising to recruiting to hiring, can change a relationship for the better.
For insurers and African-Americans to come together is a chance to right the wrongs of the past. Together, the two can work to undo attempts to erase the past. Together, the two can bring some modicum of justice to the past. Together, the two can improve the present and work to make the future better than the present.
Insurers must lead with acts, not intentions.
Insurers must show that what is necessary is also doable.
Insurers must pursue excellence, so unity may thrive where diversity lives; so the lives of African-Americans may advance in harmony with liberty and justice; so all Americans may live in freedom.
Honoring these goals will bring honor to insurers.