AT&T’s CEO urges employees to confront racial tensions, and explains the problem with “all lives matter”

“Tolerance is for cowards” – Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T
“Tolerance is for cowards” – Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T
Image: Reuters/Steve Marcus
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An eloquent defense of the Black Lives Matter movement has come from an unlikely source: the white CEO of a major American corporation.

“Our communities are being destroyed by racial tension,” said Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T since 2007, in a speech to company employees last week. ”And we’re too polite to talk about it.”

In a speech recorded by an attendee at AT&T’s Employee Resource Groups conference, Stephenson praised the ”black lives matter” movement and dismissed the retort “all lives matter,” that has been adopted by its critics. Admitting to his own previous naiveté and confusion about race, Stephenson paraphrased some wisdom imparted by a close black friend:

When a parent says, “I love my son,” you don’t say, “What about your daughter?” When we walk or run for breast cancer funding and research, we don’t say, “What about prostate cancer?” When the president says, “God bless America,” we don’t say, “Shouldn’t God bless all countries?” And when a person struggling with what’s been broadcast on our airwaves says, “black lives matter,” we should not say “all lives matter” to justify ignoring the real need for change.

Stephenson said he is taking it upon himself to start a deeper discussion within his company. “It is a difficult, tough issue, it’s not pleasant to discuss,” he said. “But we have to start communicating, and if this is a dialogue that is going to begin at AT&T, I felt like it probably ought to start with me.”

Here is the full speech:

AT&T’s most recent Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report says that 52% of its “frontline” US employees are white, compared to 23% black. At the management level 65% are white and 15% are black.

“Tolerance is for cowards,” Stephenson concludes in his speech. “Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves.”