Combating Racism – More Progress Is Needed

As a privileged white woman, I looked at progress that has been made to combat racism in the year since George Floyd’s murder as a glass half full, and wrote last week’s newsletter from that perspective. But since then, I’ve wondered, thanks to a conversation with a trusted Black friend, if I were a Black woman, would I have the same perspective?

Clearly the movement inspired by George Floyd’s death has had a positive impact in some areas – some of which I mentioned in my last newsletter and some of which I am adding here. But clearly there is more to the story.

PROGRESS

NEW RULES FOR POLICE

More than 30 states and dozens of large cities have created new rules limiting police tactics. Two common changes: banning neck restraints, like the kind Derek Chauvin used; and requiring police officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses extreme force.

By The New York Times | Source: Campaign Zero

INCREASED FOCUS ON RACISM

Helen Jones, community organizer for Dignity and Power Now, feels that the last year in America has at least shifted the debate.

“A year later, I feel there has been change,” she said. “The change I see is people’s minds being awakened to how Black and Brown people have been treated, and to their trauma. And this disregard for human life that Black and Brown people experience. A lot of eyes have been opened.”

The Black Lives Matter movement—which was re-energized by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others—has called for changes to much more than policing. The movement has demanded that the country confront its structural racism.

In response, many companies and institutions have promised to act. The National Football League apologized for past behavior. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its events. McDonald’s, Amazon, and other companies pledged to hire more diverse workforces.

Across the country, public officials and private institutions have been rethinking symbols of the Confederacy as I showed in last week’s newsletter. In addition, The Marine Corps issued detailed directives about removing and banning public displays of the Confederate battle flag at its installations — an order that extended to such items as mugs, posters, and bumper stickers.

CORPORATE COMMITMENTS

Corporate America has pledged millions to social justice efforts since the killing of George Floyd. Businesses of all kinds have expressed their solidarity with protesters, donated millions of dollars to organizations dedicated to racial justice, or vowed to change their office cultures to be more inclusive.

A number of companies large and small are now recognizing Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the emancipation of slaves. Employees at Nike, Twitter, Target, General Motors, the National Football League, among others, are making the day a paid holiday for employees. JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and other banks will close branches early.

Some organizations have announced intentions to make concrete changes inside their own institutions or in how they do business. Here is a list of some of the promises made.

Adidas

CEO - Kasper Rørsted - kasper.rorsted@adidas-group.com

Adidas has pledged to fill at least 30 percent of all open positions at Adidas and Reebok with Black or Latino candidates.

Amazon and IBM

Amazon CEO – Jeff Bezos – jeff@amazon.com

IBM CEO – Arvind Krishna - aKrishna@us.ibm.com

Amazon has placed a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition, its facial recognition technology, which has come under fire for its unfair treatment of Black Americans. Similarly, IBM said it would no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology, citing potential human rights and privacy abuses.

Andreessen Horowitz

CEO - Benjamin Abraham Horowitz – ben@a16z.com

The investment firm donated $2.2 million to start the Talent x Opportunity Fund, a program designed to support entrepreneurs from underserved communities. The company will provide entrepreneurs with seed capital and training to help start their businesses.

Apple

CEO – Tim Cook – tcook@apple.com

The technology company is creating an entrepreneurship camp for Black software developers to promote their best work and ideas, and said it would increase the number of Black-owned suppliers that provided materials for its operations.

Estée Lauder Companies

CEO – Fabrizio Freda - ffreda@estee.com

The cosmetics brand said it would make sure the percentage of Black employees at all levels in the company mirrors the percentage of Black people that make up the United States population within the next five years. It also committed to doubling recruits from historically Black colleges and universities in the next two years. Over the next three years, the company committed to doubling the amount it currently spends on sourcing ingredients, packing materials, and supplies from Black-owned businesses.

Facebook

CEO – Mark Zuckerberg – zuck@fb.com

The company pledged to double the number of its Black and Latino employees by 2023, and to increase the number of Black people in leadership positions by 30 percent over the next five years. Facebook also committed to spend at least $100 million annually on Black-owned suppliers, from marketing firms to construction companies.

FitBit

CEO – James Park – jpark@fitbit.com

The company said it would support research projects to address health conditions that disproportionately affected Black people, including Covid-19. FitBit also pledged to offer more workouts from Black fitness influencers on its app and feature them on its social media channels.

NASCAR

CEO – Jim France – jfrance@nascar.com

The organization has barred Confederate flags from its events and properties. While the organization began asking fans to stop taking Confederate battle flags to its races in 2015, many have flown the flag anyway. NASCAR said it would set protocols for enforcement at its tracks.

PayPal

CEO – Dan Schulman – dan.schulman@paypal.com

The payment platform created a $500 million fund to support Black and minority businesses by strengthening ties with community banks and credit unions serving underrepresented communities as well as investing directly in Black- and other minority-led start-ups. Another $10 million was set aside for grants to assist Black-owned businesses affected by Covid-19, with an extra $5 million to fund program grants and employee matching gifts for nonprofits working with Black business owners. PayPal also pledged to put $15 million into efforts to create more robust internal diversity and inclusion programs.

PepsiCo

CEO – Ramon Laguarta – Ramon.Laguarta@pepsico.com

The beverage giant said it would increase its number of Black managers by 30 percent by 2025. It committed to adding more than 250 Black employees to its managerial positions, including a minimum of 100 Black employees to the executive ranks. The company said it would double spending with Black-owned suppliers and create more jobs for Black people at its marketing agencies.

Pinterest

CEO – Ben Silbermann – ben@pinterest.com

Pinterest said it would work to showcase content about racial justice on its platform and remove all ads from Black Lives Matter search results so users could focus on learning about the movement.

SoftBank

CEO – Masayoshi Son - mson@softbank.co.jp

The Japanese conglomerate said it would start a $100 million fund to invest in companies led by minority entrepreneurs in the United States.

Target

CEO – Brian Cornell - brian.cornell@target.com

The retailer, which is headquartered in Minneapolis where Mr. Floyd was killed, is donating 10,000 hours of consulting services for small businesses owned by Black people in the Twin Cities to help with rebuilding efforts.

Trek

CEO – John Burke - johnburke@trekbikes.com

The bicycle manufacturer plans to create 1,000 cycling industry jobs for Black people by investing $2.5 million over 10 years in a new retail management and bicycle training scholarship program. It also pledged to invest $5 million over the next three years to establish new bike shops in underserved communities, with the goal of building 50 stores in 10 years.

To help make competitive cycling more diverse, Trek pledged to establish a scholarship fund to equip 25 National Interscholastic Cycling Association teams made up of children of diverse ethnic backgrounds for the next 10 years.

Viacom CBS

CEO – Robert M. Bakish – bob.bakish@viacom.com

One of Viacom’s subsidiaries, Black Entertainment Television, started a $25 million social justice initiative called Content for Change. It has begun airing original short-form programming and a slate of films including “Selma” and “Do the Right Thing.”

Walmart

CEO – Doug McMillon - doug.mcmillon@wal-mart.com

The retail giant said it would end the practice of storing “multicultural cosmetic products” in locked cases in its stores. CVS and Walgreens followed suit.

Walmart also said it would invest $100 million over the next five years to create a Center on Racial Equity. The center’s mission will be to support philanthropic initiatives that address systemic racism in American society, including job training and criminal justice reform.

WarnerMedia

CEO – Jason Kilar – 212.484.8000

The company committed to providing on-air advertising to Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. The company also announced it was giving $500,000 to its content innovation program, OneFifty, to support the development of issue-focused shows from underrepresented communities.

HBO Max, owned by WarnerMedia, temporarily removed “Gone With the Wind” from its library in the wake of the George Floyd protests, but later said the film would return to the platform with an introduction that puts the film into historical context.

YouTube

CEO – Susan Wojcicki - swojcicki@youtube.com

The Google-owned platform invested in a $100 million fund to support and promote the work of Black creators and artists. It also pledged to re-examine its policies to ensure that Black users and artists were protected from white-supremacist and bullying content.

While these commitments are changes for the better, it still remains unclear how much of the corporate response was public relations and how much is a sincere effort to combat racism. As consumers, we can support those companies and organizations that have made such commitments and write to their CEOs to propel them to act on their commitments.

The 15% Pledge

Aurora James, a Black business owner, started the non-profit Fifteen Percent Pledge Foundation after the killing of George Floyd. The name comes from the fact that Black people make up nearly 15% of the U.S. population. The 15% Pledge Foundation has called on major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelves to Black-owned businesses. For most companies, only 2% of merchandise on store shelves comes from Black-owned businesses. Organizations that have taken the pledge include: Athleta, Banana Republic, Bloomingdale’s, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Gap, Hudson’s Bay, Macy’s, Old Navy, Sephora, West Elm, and Yelp, among others.

MUCH STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE

Police Accountability

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted between April 18-21, 60% of Americans say the U.S. should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people.

The big question remains: How can we equip police officers to behave less violently so that they kill fewer Americans while still doing their jobs? Some experts suggest providing de-escalation training. Still others recommend taking away some responsibilities from the police — like traffic stops and mental-health interventions — to reduce the opportunities for violence.

Violent crime has risen over the past year, although explanations vary. The surge is prompting city leaders who embraced the values of the movement last year to reassess diverting money away from the police and toward social services.

At the federal level, the House passed the George Floyd Policing Act in March. It currently remains stalled in the Senate. Provisions include:

  • Granting power to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to issue subpoenas to police departments to determine whether there has been a "pattern and practice" of bias or misconduct by the department,
  • Providing grants to state attorneys general to "create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force" by police forces,
  • Establishing a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions,
  • Increasing accountability for police officers who commit misconduct by restricting the qualified immunity doctrine for local and state officers,
  • Requiring federal uniformed police officers to have body-worn cameras,
  • Requiring marked federal police vehicles to be equipped with dashboard cameras,
  • Requiring state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to ensure the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras,
  • Restricting the transfer of military equipment to police,
  • Requiring state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to adopt anti-discrimination policies and training programs, including those targeted at fighting racial profiling,
  • Prohibiting federal police officers from using chokeholds or other carotid holds and requiring state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to adopt the same prohibition,
  • Prohibiting the issuance of no-knock warrants in federal drug investigations, and providing incentives to the states to enact a similar prohibition,
  • Changing the threshold for the permissible use of force by federal law enforcement officers from "reasonableness" to only when "necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury," and
  • Mandating that federal officers use deadly force only as a last resort and that de-escalation be attempted, and condition federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies on the adoption of the same policy.

So far, changes at state and local levels do not seem to have affected the number of police killings. Through last weekend, police officers continued to kill about three Americans per day on average, virtually the same as before Floyd’s murder.

While changing the accountability of police may result in fewer police killings of unarmed Blacks, it won’t fix the problems of substandard housing, education and health inequities, disparities in the criminal justice system, and other systemic issues that have gone on for generations.

Health Disparities

Death rates from the leading causes of death – coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, among others – continues to be significantly higher among Blacks than among Whites. The incidents of heart failure before age 50 was found to be 20 times higher for Blacks than Whites. Residential segregation, economic disadvantages, and political and geographical marginalization continue to contribute to health disparities, creating another public health challenge.

More has been written about this in my newsletters of 9/13/20 and 1/31/21.

Racial Inequities in Education

A study produced by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that many students in the U.S. living in segregated neighborhoods and concentrations of poverty lack access to high-quality schools, exacerbating existing inequities in student outcomes. Please see my newsletters of 9/20/20 and 9/27/20 for more detailed information about these disparities and their ramifications. Also, read my newsletter of 10/4/20 for steps you can take to help.

Unjust criminal justice system

The United States is the world’s leader in its rates of incarceration with approximately 2.2 million people in federal, state or local prisons. Blacks are more likely than Whites to be arrested; once arrested they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted they are more likely to experience lengthier prison sentences than Whites. Black adults are 5.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites. Clearly reforms to our criminal justice system are overdue. To read more about this issue, see my newsletters of 10/25/20 and 11/1/20.

WHAT CAN YOU, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, DO?

Inventory your spending power

A first step in making change starts with taking stock of your own life. As a consumer, the dollars you spend every day have a huge impact on restaurants, retailers, brands, and small businesses. How many Black owned companies are currently represented in your monthly spending?

Reinforce corporate commitments

Along with the list of organizations above, I have included contact information for the CEOs of those organizations. I encourage you to pick up your pen, or open your laptop. Send a letter or an email supporting their commitment and telling them that you are watching to see their commitments come to fruition. Consider frequenting those companies that have made a commitment to racial equality, and tell the store manager that’s why you’re there.

Buy Black

Shoppers often say they’re more likely to spend with companies that share their values on racial justice. That potentially could be the catalyst to help that retailer recover faster from pandemic losses. Are you able to redirect at least a part of your monthly budget across categories to Black-owned businesses?

Donate

Consider a donation of $15 to the 15% Foundation to continue their advocacy work. The organization works to support Black-owned businesses, to change the trajectory for Black businesses across the country, to and funnel billions back into the Black community.

Or donate to the many organizations working tirelessly to combating systemic racism. A list is included here.

Encourage passage of the George Floyd Policing Act

Reach out to your senators to encourage them to enact the George Floyd Policing Act. You can find the contact information for your Senators here.

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Many of the changes I wrote about last week – global tributes and protests, toppling Confederate statues, resignations of leaders after complaints of racist company cultures, changed street names, programs deleted from streaming platforms, etc.—do not bring about the changes in systemic racism that plague this country. While they are a start in the right direction, Christy Lopez of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown University shares my perspective when she calls the changes important but preliminary: “They’re really necessary first steps, but they’re also baby steps,” she said.

According to a Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Each of us can begin the journey to eradicate systemic racism with one or more small steps. You can find many more suggestions here.

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