Can anti-racist busi­nesses put money where their mouth is?

Ripon Bulletin - - Opinion - EMILY NOR­TON

Cor­po­ra­tions re­ject­ing racism is good, but it’s a low bar — es­pe­cially when many still profit off it.

Don­ald Trump’s fail­ure to im­me­di­ately con­demn white su­prem­a­cists af­ter the vi­o­lent neoNazi rally in Char­lottesville sev­eral weeks back had an un­ex­pected ca­su­alty: the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness ad­vi­sory coun­cils.

My part­ner works for a For­tune 500 com­pany whose CEO sat on one those coun­cils. Along with many other em­ploy­ees, my part­ner had been pres­sur­ing the CEO through an in­ter­nal pe­ti­tion for some time.

Even­tu­ally, the dam broke: CEO af­ter CEO de­cided they could no longer as­so­ciate them­selves with the White House af­ter the in­ci­dent, forc­ing Trump to dis­solve two high-level pan­els.

I’m glad my part­ner’s ef­forts, along with big­ger ones like a cam­paign to tar­get “Cor­po­rate Back­ers of Hate,” rat­tled these ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions’ top de­ci­sion mak­ers.

Cor­po­rate ex­ecs know that it’s bad for busi­ness to be af­fil­i­ated with racists — and good for busi­ness to look like he­roes. But while re­ject­ing racism is good, it’s a low bar — es­pe­cially when many still profit off it.

For ex­am­ple, Jamie Di­mon, CEO of JP Mor­gan Chase, jumped into ac­tion af­ter Char­lottesville. He not only is­sued a state­ment, but also an­nounced that JP Mor­gan Chase would do­nate $500,000 to the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s fought racism since the 1970s.

It was a smart busi­ness move. The last time JP Mor­gan was on the wrong side of racism, it cost them $55 mil­lion in set­tle­ments for charg­ing black and brown peo­ple higher rates for their mort­gages. Look­ing at that num­ber, a $500,000 donation is a drop in the bucket.

The com­pany can’t take back the dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits or its part in the hous­ing cri­sis, which slashed black wealth in this coun­try in half. That’s a huge per­cent­age. Black fam­i­lies had al­ready been de­nied cen­turies of wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion due to slav­ery and racist poli­cies like redlin­ing, and this cri­sis was a dou­ble whammy.

$500,000 also isn’t enough to make up for the bank’s fi­nanc­ing of mass in­car­cer­a­tion.

JP Mor­gan Chase lent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to Geo Group and CoreCivic, two ma­jor op­er­a­tors of pri­vate pris­ons and im­mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ters, de­spite in­vestor con­cerns .

All that dirty money makes Di­mon’s com­ments in sup­port of DACA af­ter Trump’s de­ci­sion to re­peal it also ring a lit­tle hol­low.

DACA, or De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, is a pro­gram cre­ated by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that pro­tects some young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants from de­por­ta­tion.

It’s hard to believe that Di­mon truly thinks that “when peo­ple come here to learn, work hard, and give back to their com­mu­ni­ties, we should al­low them to stay in the United States” when his com­pany sup­ports cor­po­ra­tions that profit from ware­hous­ing im­mi­grants in de­ten­tion.

White supremacy doesn’t just look like KKK hoods and swastikas — it can also wear a busi­ness suit on Wall Street. Of the top five Wall Street firms, the high­est level de­ci­sion mak­ers are 86 per­cent white. That’s no co­in­ci­dence.

Cor­po­ra­tions have huge power they can use to fight struc­tural racism. But it’s got to be more than just words.

JP Mor­gan and Gold­man Sachs could pub­licly com­mit to pull con­tracts that con­trib­ute to mass in­car­cer­a­tion. IBM could refuse con­tracts that con­trib­ute to vi­o­lent im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. Wells Fargo could halt its fi­nanc­ing of the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line on Na­tive lands. At a min­i­mum, that’s what the Cor­po­rate Back­ers of Hate cam­paign rec­om­mends.

And, by look­ing in­ward at their hir­ing poli­cies, pro­mo­tion poli­cies, and pay scales, these busi­nesses can be­gin build­ing to­wards long term equal­ity.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that they de­nounced ha­tred. I just hope they’ll put their money with their mouth is.

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