June 18, 2020

An Apology To Public Enemy’s Chuck D

I do not pretend to understand, but ever since I was a teenager, I’ve tried my best to fathom the pain to be a supporting agent of assistance. In hindsight, it wasn’t enough.

I’m a white, middle-aged Canadian man. Anyone with a pulse ought to be outraged by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His death, tragic as it is, has become a catalytic converter for systemic change. It’s a plea for white people to overlook their biases.

This article is a start for me.

In 2014 I began writing a column titled “An Open Letter Of Thanks To Chuck D,” he being the mastermind and lyricist of hip hop group Public Enemy. My best friend growing up was black. He was the best man at our wedding, too. My bestie was the one who introduced me to Public Enemy, back in 1987. I got hooked from the very first beat drops of Yo! Bum Rush the Show. That admiration has continued to this day.

It took a couple of years of me picking away at that open letter of thanks to getting it right. The piece hailed Chuck’s writing twofold.

First, as a teenager growing up outside of Toronto, Chuck’s lyrics helped me understand the rage he felt (and that of my best friend) against the oppression of black people. I was able to vicariously sense what black people were feeling through the rage found in those songs. In the article, I was trying to capture how important the lyrics were to my upbringing and my understanding of various racial issues as a white person.

Second, I found many of the lyrics applied to issues found inside our working organizations. I wanted to laud Chuck for his prescience as it pertained to matters such as teamwork, unity, and white ivory tower command and control leadership behavior. I chimed in on racial inequalities when it came to a lack of diversity at the c-suite level and boards of governance based on his lyrics.

After completing what I thought was an acceptable enough article to publish, I wasn’t sure where the right place was to post it, so I sat on it. Forbes? Huffington Post? Would HBR accept it? LinkedIn? Should I submit it as an editorial to a newspaper? My blog?

I never published it. And given recent events, I’ve forced myself to ask why.

Was I afraid, ashamed, or ignorant? Did I think I might upset people, black or white? I really don’t know. This snippet from the original article gives you a taste of the writing and my intended alignment between racial inequalities and the organization.

    • Brothers Gonna Work It Out is an outstanding track from Public Enemy’s influential 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet. At its core, the song is about unity. Chuck D suggests we should put racial tensions and differences aside and simply work together. It’s a futuristic idealism, a call for a more hopeful future. The Black community wants to rise above, educate others of their history, and be treated on the same plane as white people. It’s a bit like business units in an organization. The tension between teams often creates unnecessary stress. Maybe those individuals in certain siloed teams might ‘wanna work it out’ in order to make it easier to get things done.

My point for speaking out is simple: I need to fight the power and do the right thing. I have the power to do more than sit on an article. I will fight. I can (and will) do the right thing going forward. I’ll need some help and new strategies, but I will do better.

On Public Enemy’s song, “Fear of a Black Planet,” Chuck D writes the following:

I’m not the one that’s runnin’ but they got me on the run

Treat me like I have a gun

All I got is genes and chromosomes

Consider me Black to the bone

All I want is peace and love on this planet

Ain’t how that God planned it?”

Indeed, it is time for peace and love on this planet.

My friend Bryan Acker wrote an excellent Instagram entry recently, addressing white people in his network. He wrote:

It’s not our moment, but it’s our chance to stand with people and maybe be willing to risk our own security to make this world a better, more just place.

I stand with Chuck D. Always have. Always will.

I’m sorry this note of thanks did not come sooner. I will do the right thing going forward and help fight the power.


My next book is publishing on September 29 titled, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters.” Pre-order!

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