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NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell delivered remarks as part of the annual Walter Kaitz Dinner 2017 on September 27, 2017 in New York City.
Remarks of Michael Powell
Walter Kaitz Diversity Dinner 2017
I want to speak to you tonight from a place of vulnerability and doubt, rather than self-confidence and strength. This is something I am never inclined to do, but I think this moment calls for opening a window into one’s anxieties. Whatever my achievements or success, you see, I am still a racial minority in America.
As such, I live with feelings that I work very hard to hide, but which sit on my shoulder and whisper to me all the time. Many in this room are unaware of what I am talking about, but I see it in the eyes of every person of color—and often women as well—whenever we share a knowing glance.
I am referring to the gut-gnawing feelings of self-doubt that we feel as we move through our careers. It is a fear we are not actually good enough for the positions we hold. We fear being revealed as an imposter. We fear we are on a societal short-leash—tolerated, maybe accepted by not yet fully embraced.
This jumble of feelings stems from years of discrimination, particularly of the subtle variety where signals are sent that we are not the equal of those belonging to another race. A product of a program, rather than merit. Transmittals that we are good, but not great. These bees that sting swarm around us more than you can possibly imagine.
We burn with ambition like any other, but our fire is more a delicate pilot light than a raging furnace.
Those who would rather not see us succeed, or who compete to top us have always had a sixth sense for this vulnerability of self-doubt. They blow and puff in our direction—sometimes gently just to cause a flicker and sometimes with full breath in an effort to fully extinguish.
Recent events in this country have felt more like a cat-5 hurricane. The dog whistles of racial inferiority are sounding all around us. Rage has blown in with a strength and ferocity reminiscent of an era we thought, or hoped had been left to history. And, like a hurricane, the vitriol seems to strengthen over warm water, or more accurately hot air—billowed by tweet storms and actions that elude any reasonable explanation, but a racial one.
Flame can represent hope and ambition, but fire also symbolizes anger and destruction. To see white faces supreme carrying torches in the depths of darkness, venerating warriors who fought to maintain the right to keep people in chains is terrifying. It is not simply the face of disagreeable free speech, it is the theater and symbolism invented by hooded people who would come in the night with ropes in search of a good tree. They are the actions of dark-hearted men who rounded up and gassed fellow human beings by the hundreds of millions.
We are frightened. Our flames are keeled over, clinging to their wicks.
What we need more than ever is affirmation. We need to know we are surrounded by phalanxes of good-hearted people who will not allow our flames to be snuffed out. People who are committed to our progress. People who are sincerely invested in our success. People who welcome and embrace us as full equals and who will not tolerate a culture that allows someone to use racial or gender insecurity as a weapon to get ahead.
This is why this dinner matters. It is why the Kaitz family legacy matters. It is why our industry’s habitual and unshakeable commitment to the cause of diversity and inclusion matters.
You give us hope. You give us sustenance. You fuel our inner flame, allowing it to strengthen and grow and withstand the winds of soul-sucking inferiority, whether of the racial, gender or sexual orientation kind.
You give us reason to believe that no matter what conflagration of hate we see raging around us, we work in an industry committed to lifting us above our doubts and insecurities and giving us a true opportunity to be self-confident, bold and visionary leaders.
That is why I love this industry, why I cherish this event and why I can leave this stage confident again, proud and head-high. That is what Diversity Week does for me.