No quick fixes: calling on corporations to think long term about racial and economic justice
Two months ago protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor erupted around the world, making Black Lives Matter the largest social movement in history.
In response companies across corporate America have come out with proclamations expressing their solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Accompanying many of these statements are large, multi-million dollar donations in the name of racial justice. Companies like Apple, Facebook, and Netflix have collectively committed millions of dollars to support organizations that are fighting for better policies, practices, and structures to support a more just society.
This inflow of financial support is certainly welcomed. However, in the absence of a richer, deeper understanding of racial inequity in this country and the investments required to dismantle it, corporations are making the dangerous mistake of having a quick fix to racial justice, which can slow progress.
A quick lesson from the LGBTQ Rights movement is instructive as to why our work must have a wider lens. Imara Jones, a prominent Black trans activist, recently discussed the ongoing struggles of Black trans people in America. Jones references the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which garnered such fierce support and energy. She notes how much emphasis was placed on marriage equality and the false belief that once it was achieved, positive momentum would obliterate the remaining LGBTQ injustices.
By narrowing the conversation to criminal justice, racial justice is incorrectly reduced to prisons and police, which overlooks the holistic vision of a racially just society. If our newest allies for racial justice, be it individuals or corporations, view criminal justice reform like DOMA, will racial injustices around education, health, and the economy ever be heard? Or will society, so conditioned to view Black Lives Matter-inspired protests focused on criminal justice, misguidedly assume that the rest of the dominoes will magically fall?
Widening the lens: weaving in economic justice
An area that requires additional interrogation and investment is economic justice. Black Futures Lab, an initiative led by Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, has surveyed tens of thousands of Black Americans over the past couple of years, to better understand the issues that they care most about. In its report, Politics and Power in the 2019 Black Census, across more than 30,000 respondents, topics around criminal and education, housing, and economic justice were imperatives. In fact, according to the report, economic issues rank among the most pressing challenges Black people face, with low wages being the top concern.
This is understandable. As mass incarceration and police brutality towards Black people in America has its evil precedents, so too does economic injustice. From the false promise of forty acres and a mule, to Black workers being excluded from unions in the earlier days of the labor movement, alongside the more frequently cited examples of redlining and the GI Bill, today’s economic injustices interwoven with race should come as no surprise.
Creating abundance and equity
But the path to economic justice, as it relates to racial justice, is much more than preventing wrongs. It’s about creating abundance. And this is where corporations can truly put their money where their mouths are. Here is a short list of where they can begin:
- Hire more Black people. Do not only hire them for roles in your Diversity departments. Embrace and amplify their all-around brilliance. Pay them a living wage and make sure they are promoted to leadership positions.
- Put your assets with a fund manager of color. There are so many diverse asset managers hiding in plain sight. Push all your managers (POC and white) to invest with social justice values and look into their portfolio companies, demanding demographic and equity metrics on their investments.
- Invest your money in projects that create powerful, just communities. Public infrastructure and investment in roads, transit, hospitals, and schools are woefully inadequate in many communities of color. Economic justice extends not just to one’s bank account but to the very communities people inhabit.
Racial justice requires, in addition to the movement that is inspiring today’s protests, a radical reimagination of how the economy works for people of color in our country. We must fund, invest, and pass solutions that prevent the theft of wealth, as well as the creation of wealth for those who have been systematically excluded from it. These issues, alongside so many other facets of life like police violence, make up the intersectional patchwork of what would constitute comprehensive, and truly systemic, racial justice.
Corporate America’s initial commitment to this work is an important start, but we must continue to push. Let’s channel this momentum to confront all the endemic problems perpetuating racial injustice in this country.