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Corporate America Agrees Black Lives Matter. What Comes Next?

2020-08-23 09:00:04

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Major companies have drafted policy and value statements, made pledges and taken other actions in the name of countering racism. What does it amount to?

In a DealBook Debrief Live at Home conversation earlier this month, the columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin talked about some of those measures with Nikole Hannah-Jones, a domestic correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and the lead creator of The 1619 Project, which examines the consequences of slavery. These are edited excerpts.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in police custody, are the things that you’re seeing businesses do meaningful?

Corporations should be looking at the people they’re hiring, the people they’re promoting, if they are using their power to help Black businesses to get a foothold in the economy. All of those things are very important.

But what’s much more important to me is: How are corporations using the power that they have in Congress? The power that they have to force the mayors of cities to do things to make the cities more equitable?

What would it mean if major corporations decided that they were going to join the fight for school integration? It’s actually a good recruitment strategy that you don’t have to have your executives forking over $30,000, $40,000 a year for private school because you’re fighting for quality public schools.

So I’m thinking much, much bigger than, you know, “Can we raise our Black staff from 6 percent to 10 percent?” That’s very minimal, if we’re talking about a moment of reckoning. There are much, much bigger societal issues that corporations often drive and that corporations certainly could be pushing at a bigger level.

Let’s talk about one of those, perhaps the biggest, which is reparations. What role you think that businesses can or should play in that dialogue and debate?

What racism was designed to do was actually justify the economic exploitation of Black Americans, first through slavery, then through our system of legal segregation. Because of that, Black Americans have 1/10th to 1/100th of the wealth of white Americans.

What the polling shows is the vast majority of white Americans are opposed even to the idea of reparations, and in order to get Congress to take this issue seriously, you have to be able to move the needle on how Americans are thinking about it. We know that corporate lobbying can be very effective in that way.


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