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Accountancy Associate Professor Tony Holder shares his personal reflections following the death of George Floyd

Editor’s note:  When we need subject matter experts, the Daniels communications team often turns to our faculty to lend insight into everything from marketing trends to tax returns. Our professors offer a wealth of knowledge in a wide variety of business topics. While we know they have rich lives outside of research and teaching, we rarely ask them to provide opinions on personal topics. But, today, we are stepping back from our regular editorial coverage to listen, to learn and to lean in to our commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and racial justice as we elevate Associate Professor Tony Holder’s voice via the Daniels Newsroom. We believe Black lives (and voices) matter. Below, Holder shares his first-person reflections with you.

I am about as far from an activist as you could get. However, watching the George Floyd video elicited a lot of new feelings for me. When he called out to his mom, it hurt … still hurts. I did not expect to be surprised. After all, I have seen a lot in my lifetime. However, the officers’ nonchalance? Especially given that they knew that this incident was being recorded. As I was watching it, it just occurred to me that these officers did not think they were doing anything wrong. How would they (do they) act when they are not being recorded? Most of the time when you hear about this type of thing, there’s video proof. What happens when there’s no video proof? How many people have been abused off-camera? Murdered?

Racism doesn’t surprise me. I have witnessed it and experienced it many times. I grew up in a small, very segregated city in Ohio, where Black people lived on the south side of town and white people lived on the north side of town. For most of my life, I grew up on the south (poorer) side of town. However, my family and I briefly lived in a house on the north side of town and I have two very vivid memories from that period: (1) very welcoming people who insisted that my siblings and I (four of us) go to church every Sunday and incentivized us with really nice things (food and toys); and (2) members of the KKK burning a cross in our yard in the middle of the night. We were fairly certain that the two groups of people overlapped. I guess it wasn’t hypocrisy since no one ever burned a cross in our yard on a Sunday. We did not stay in that house for very long.

I also have many memories of dealing with the police. I have been pulled over many times by police when there weren’t any cameras around (I knew it and they knew it). I recall being pulled over for being in the wrong neighborhood. I explained to the officers that I was lost (this was before Google Maps), and I was given a (very presidential) escort out of the neighborhood. I have always been both deferential and terrified dealing with the police (and in my experience most of the time the officers’ attitude was to be very condescending). Anyone that doesn’t understand these feelings is not a person of color (or at least didn’t grow up where I grew up). I should also add that most (not all) of my negative experiences with the police occurred when I was poor. I often try to convince myself that things have changed (they certainly had for me). When something like this happens, I am just reminded that systemic racism has not gone anywhere, even if its effects are inversely related to a person’s wealth.

Associate Professor Tony Holder

I am shocked at how many people have no idea that they live in a bubble. I think that many of my neighbors believe that since something has never happened to them, then it must never happen (many Black people feel the same way about jury duty, btw).

Some of them (living in the same affluent neighborhood as I) appear to be missing the point of the protests entirely. They are assuming that what happened to George Floyd is unique (other than that it was caught on camera) and that this will not happen in the future. As a person of color, I have thought (hoped) that would be the case many times in the past. It hasn’t happened yet.

At the same time, many of my neighbors are responding to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter.’ Yes, that’s the default assumption. Watch the video again and pay attention to the nonchalant expression on the arresting officer’s face. Did he think that ‘All Lives Matter?’ Would he have had that expression if it was his friend? His relative? His kid? These protests are occurring because many people don’t believe that things are changing—at least not for the better. The uncomfortable truth is that many people of color (myself included) are terrified of the police. For us, being George Floyd is really a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with no recording videos or a “selectively working” bodycam.

Not everybody will think that way and some places may be better or worse. Most of my experiences/beliefs were shaped in Ohio, where I grew up. I used to visit relatives in Natchez, Mississippi, and always thought it’s much worse (near as I could tell, no one is hiding the blatant racism there). I have lived and worked in Colorado for about three years now and I would say that Colorado is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Mississippi. But, I still bring with me the experiences of the past. One of my neighbors invited me to walk the hills with her in a rural all-white neighborhood. She had no idea that I would never do that (just no). A part of me realizes that it might be irrational to feel that way about a simple daytime walk, but I would still never do that. In my mind, that is the wrong place, and anytime is the wrong time.

While I hope that things are getting better, I could make an argument that things are getting worse. I read the news (a lot!) and in my opinion, society is becoming more divided. We all (appear to) believe that we have the moral high ground. Instead of searching for commonalities, people are (or appear to be) looking for things that make us different. Instead of seeking common ground, we are focusing on our areas of disagreement. 

Hopefully, someday we’ll get back to embracing our differences and focusing on moving forward together. Like most people, I hope my kids will get to live in that type of world. Until then, although I am not an activist, I am glad that I have a chance to share my thoughts.

Anthony D. Holder, PhD, CPA is an associate professor in the School of Accountancy at the Daniels College of Business. His research interests are wide and varied, including work in the area of financial reporting, accounting standard setting, compensation, managerial incentives, and earnings management, governance, ethics/fraud and information systems.