Saturday, May 18, 2024

Tolerate this

My dad was a wonderful man who routinely put his family, country and community ahead of his own interests. He fought the Nazis barely a generation after his Düsseldorf-born father immigrated to the United States. He worked hard to pay for his sons’ college educations, and he was devoted to the Lions Club and other civic groups. With age, he also gained a bigoted streak. It was muted when we lived in a small Midwest town that had no racial diversity. It flared after he retired to Arizona, a melting pot of cultures. On my periodic visits to Phoenix, my dad’s intolerant attitude toward people of color working in restaurants and other places often sparked repeated quarrels. It’s a painful memory, but it showed that well-meaning people may struggle to accept those who have different life experiences. And I learned that bigotry is wrong.

Decades later, intolerance remains a constant news topic, ranging from the depravity of Islamic terrorists killing Jews, Christians and others who don’t share their extremist views to the Oklahoma frat boys singing racist ditties. There’s plenty of intolerance closer to home, too. The Rev. Franklin Graham, one of North Carolina’s most famous evangelists, accused President Barack Obama of being overly influenced by Muslims in his family tree. “Many feel that he’s protecting Islam. I don’t know that, but it certainly seems that way,” Graham said of our twice-elected commander in chief in a March 11 radio interview. Charlotte’s city council wrapped itself in knots recently in defeating a measure according lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens similar rights as others — an issue already resolved by much of the business community, many municipalities and the millennial generation.

Overcoming bigotry has important business implications. At North Carolina State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues forum in February, former BB&T Corp. CEO John Allison and others analyzed how the state can become more innovative. One of North Carolina’s most important business leaders over the past 25 years, Allison is now head of the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank. He argued the private sector shows much faster growth if the government stays out of the way. He denounced regulations and corporate incentives, and he prefers market forces, rather than politicians, to determine winners and losers. It was predictable stuff for those who’ve heard Allison. So I grabbed him after his talk and asked what else could spur North Carolina’s growth. Well, he said, there’s an issue he didn’t mention: Our state needs to be more open to diversity because the economic-development winners of the next decade will be the regions that embrace a mix of races, cultures and beliefs. Areas that spend energy intruding on citizens’ private lives — due to tradition, dogma or fear — can turn off a lot of innovators, who may choose more welcoming locales, he said. I think he’s right.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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