REPORT

Corporate impact in the Age of Racial Equity and Justice Reform

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Overview

One of America’s guiding principles is the idea of capitalism. Capitalism is one of the primary factors that enabled America to become the world’s wealthiest country. However, when unchecked, capitalism can also contribute to the destruction of society by widening the gap between the rich and poor.

Corporate America is the juggernaut in America’s capitalist society and plays a significant role in perpetuating the social and economic disparities that still exist today. Since the 1980s, corporate America has benefited from fewer regulations that enabled companies to focus more on boosting profits – sometimes at any cost –and less on American workers.

For the last few decades, companies have outsourced millions of jobs overseas due to cheaper labor costs and lessened government regulatory oversight. In fact, between 2000 and 2005, five million manufacturing jobs alone were outsourced. While manufacturing has been severely impacted, nearly every industry has also witnessed the effects of job outsourcing to increase profits.

Corporate America’s increased power has also reduced the effectiveness of labor unions, which have traditionally played pivotal roles in protecting workers’ rights and wages. The shift of policies that have helped corporate America, and the wealthy, to further maximize profits explain why CEO compensations have grown 900% between 1978 and 2018. Yet, somehow, worker compensation only increased by 11.9% during the same time frame. Consequently, the wealthiest one percent of Americans own nearly as much wealth as the entire middle class of America and more than 15 times that of the bottom 50%.

As America’s largest companies expand to new shores and increase profits to new heights, they have a responsibility to ensure they also contribute to the local communities they operate in. These contributions include paying taxes, hiring and developing local talent, providing charitable donations to community service organizations, volunteering, and contributing time and expertise to address some of its communities’ most pressing issues. In essence, the distribution of wealth to local communities should be seen as an investment for the future, a patriotic responsibility, and an insurance policy for long-term sustainability – not simply a tax write-off.

When it comes to talent, America continues to do itself a disservice. Currently, school districts with 50% or more Black or Latino students have an average funding gap of $5,000 per student. The 20% of districts with the highest concentration of poverty have an even greater funding gap of $6,700 per student. Not only are these students lacking in their fundamental right to quality public education, but they also experience strenuous conditions where their most basic needs may not be met. Without basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothes, and parental guidance, it becomes incredibly challenging to take advantage of the educational opportunities available.

Taxes are the primary source of funding for public schools and programs geared to assist the most impoverished. However, many of the wealthiest individuals and organizations scavenge for ways to evade paying taxes. In 2018, 91 Fortune 500 companies did not have to pay any taxes even though they were profitable. The loopholes that enable large companies to avoid paying taxes perpetuate the disenfranchisement that exists in communities across the country.

To make it clearer, evaded tax money is stealing from our public school systems. Companies that do circumvent paying taxes have a moral obligation to divert those funds elsewhere – such as to community action programs, local talent development, or job preparation programs.

It is important to note that although charitable donations are useful, the greatest impact is one that lasts. For example, donations to the local food bank and homeless shelter are critical; however, what are the long-term effects of these contributions? Gifts such as these improve a person’s immediate situation but do not elevate their long-term circumstances. Education and access are the vehicles that drive long-term change for a person because they increase opportunities, aptitude, and confidence. These opportunities will lead to higher income earning potential and break the poverty cycle that exists for so many American families. Today is the turning point for corporate America. The time to make lasting change that extends far beyond annual donations is now. As leaders in this movement, organizations have the opportunity to cause a positive domino effect in many areas of society, such as:

  • Reducing crime
  • Enhancing police relations
  • Establishing impactful political engagements
  • Evolving public perception and portrayal of certain groups
  • Elevating self-esteem amongst many Americans

Americans are taught from birth the importance of patriotism. What is more patriotic than uplifting those in your country and communities that need help the most? Corporate America’s investment now will lead to a larger pool of qualified applicants for future employees and leaders. Many young people have the potential to be great additions to any company if they have equitable access to quality education and positive role models. This is an investment in the future that has the potential of yielding greater returns than we could ever imagine.

Report Highlights

When unchecked, capitalism can contribute to the destruction of society by widening the gap between the rich and poor.

As America’s largest companies expand to new shores and increase profits to new heights, they have a responsibility to ensure they also contribute to the local communities they operate in.

As leaders in the social justice movement, organizations have the opportunity to cause a positive domino effect in many areas of society.

Setting the Record Straight on the Black Narrative

Immediately following the murder of George Floyd, Chevron, its employees, and countless others asked what they could do to help in the change for social justice. For starters, it’s essential to understand the initiatives Black people are fighting for. That includes being educated on how opposing groups have strategically altered the Black narrative. The following are examples of initiatives that have been purposely miscommunicated through mainstream media to change the true intention of a movement.

Colin Kaepernick

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning of his NFL games. The action sparked near-immediate backlash when it was interpreted as unpatriotic and disrespectful toward the U.S. flag and military members. However, the true purpose of this demonstration was to perform a peaceful protest against police brutality. Fast-forward to 2021, and this peaceful protest is finally starting to be understood given the aftermath of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other’s death. Today, players across all sports leagues use their platform to fight against police brutality and systemic racism. Ultimately, Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his career in the NFL for justice – but not before leaving a lasting mark for change.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards Black people. The international human rights campaign began on social media in 2013 with #BlackLivesMatter and has since gone on to lead calls for Black people to be treated fairly by authorities in the U.S. and worldwide. According to Black Lives Matter, the movement is “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”

How did we get to Black Lives Matter? Since the start of slavery, Black lives in America have been undervalued. Black lives have been seen as property, less than, undeserving, and have continuously been unjustifiably killed since their shipment to America. Black Lives Matter is simply saying Black peoples’ lives matter too. It is saying Black people are not less than. They are deserving, and they should unquestionably not be killed simply because they are Black.

The Black Lives Matter organization is fighting against police brutality and equality. However, there have been attempts by mainstream media to alter this narrative and portray the Black Lives Matter organization as a militant group that only cares about Black lives. As a result, “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” campaigns started to take shape. Further attacks on the Black Lives Matter narrative sparked when looters began to infiltrate areas where peaceful protests were underway. News outlets across the nation took advantage of these situations and purposefully connected the looters as Black Lives Matter supporters.

These are the facts: Black Lives Matter is not devaluing police or any other groups’ lives. Black Lives Matter does not promote or condone looting or violence. Black Lives Matter is a peaceful movement asking America to value Black lives equally to White lives.

Defund the Police

What does police reform or “Defund The Police” really mean to Black people? When Black people refer to Defund the Police or any police funding reform, they are referring to the removal of dollars from law enforcement. Some argue those dollars should be re-allocated to organizations with expertise, training, and capacity to handle certain societal complexities, such as mental health calls. The fact of the matter is police officers are not adequately trained to handle these types of issues. As a result, law enforcement should not be receiving funds for managing situations they are not qualified for. Instead, police reform efforts recommend police departments integrate with local community organizations with expertise in managing sensitive problems. This would eliminate the growth of deadly police encounters with people struggling with their mental health and in need of help.

It will also ensure tax dollars are rightfully allocated to the organizations that should be doing the work rather than being given to ill-equipped agencies to address the issue.

Community Integration and Representation

Another aspect of police reform is training law enforcement officers on integrating themselves into the communities they serve. One way to achieve this is to create local programs in which the police can simply get to know the people of the community and build trusting relationships. Such programs are critical in helping young people within these communities interact with police, firefighters, and first responders. Additionally, these friendly interactions will help young people learn how to become essential workers themselves and re-define what it means to carry the responsibility of serving and protecting.

Further, neighborhoods need to be served by police and essential workers that look like the community itself. Not only will it de-escalate long-harbored racial tensions, but it will also demonstrate to young individuals that someone like them can be an instrument of good for the betterment of their community.

The Black Panthers

The Black Panther Movement was similar to the Black Lives Matter movement in that it was an organization that stood up against police brutality against Black people. The organization created community programs, such as Free Breakfast for Children to address food injustice, and established community health clinics to treat diseases, including sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDs. The Black Panther organization was founded in 1968, and their causes at the time were the same causes we are still fighting for today. However, the Black Panther narrative was changed by those outside the organization and began referring to it as a militant group against America. The FBI later infiltrated the Black Panther organization and caused the party to suffer many internal conflicts. After its members and leaders were vilified by the mainstream press, public support for the party waned, and the group became more isolated. As a result, all of the good that was started stopped.

What can you do?

Without the contributions of Black Americans starting as far back as 400 years ago, America and corporate America would not be what it is today. So many communities, systems, and organizations have significantly benefited from the free labor of our ancestors. Therefore, it is time for corporate America to recognize these contributions and do its part to make changes for the better. The first step organizations, employees, and fellow citizens can take is realizing and vocalizing their obligation to discuss these issues in their true nature. Calling out and correcting false narratives as advertised by mainstream media is essential in doing your part in creating a truly equitable future for all. Secondly, they can advocate for and help influence the true narrative of Black Americans to fight against the systemic racism and oppression of our past. Give representative employees and contributors a public platform to share their stories in a way they haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so. Lastly, they can provide corporate sponsorships for Black owned media. Now, more than ever, there is a need to diversity newsrooms. The effect of media portrayals on public attitudes has been well established, particularly their assessments of racial/ethnic minorities. To diversify media is to deconstruct a counterproductive narrative and reverse centuries of racist stereotypes that have fed the continued subjugation of millions of individuals who have a right to be free from discrimination.

Recognizing the Historical Legacy of Disparity

A personal experience all too familiar.

In America, there is a historical legacy of disparity against Black people, which started with slavery and continues today with police brutality. Yet, in our modern society, this history has been silenced. It is not discussed in history books and has been ignored for the most part. But in order for us to understand what Black people of today are dealing with, they also need to understand both past and current disparities funded by our legal system. I will give two examples of our hidden history that impacted me directly. Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921 in Tulsa. Tulsa, Oklahoma, had a thriving Black community called Black Wall Street that was self-sustaining with everything a community needed. There were successful Black doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs of all degrees. Beautiful homes, churches, and theaters were all apart of this thriving community. Because of the deep hatred and jealousy White Tulsan’s had for this community, they came up with an illegitimate reason to terrorize and destroy this community with the help of the federal government. This was devastating for Tulsa’s Black community, and it was unable to recover fully. Several Black communities across the U.S. had the same initial successes. Still, they succumbed to the destruction and terrorism of racist communities who believed Black people should not have equal or more than them. I can’t help but think about what this community could have been today. Or wonder why this history is not more widely shared. I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from 1963 to 1981. Yet, I never heard of Black Wall Street. I only learned what happened in my late thirties. Why was this important part of history hidden?Another instance of hidden history is the Black women, who were called computers, at NASA. They were the first to learn how to code for the IBM mainframe and teach their White counterparts how to do the same. They also acted as the computers to calculate trajectories for space events.

In the early eighties, I worked as a contractor for NASA and wrote code for the Mission Control Center. But yet again, it was only a few years ago that I learned of these women. This hidden history steals the pride and confidence that builds up a community by understanding, sharing, and celebrating the successes of their ancestors. What pride I would have taken knowing that they had led the way for me. Now to discuss a chronological set of disparities against Black people in America. All of which we are still feeling the effects of today.

Slavery

Slavery is a cruel institution that causes human beings to lose their heritage, language, religion, and, most of all –freedom. But along with that, these human beings were treated worse than animals. The U.S. used Chattel Slavery, which allowed for separating families and the beating and killing of slaves. It also had laws that kept the slaves from receiving an education. A slave could be punished if caught reading or writing. After slavery ended, parents were unable to educate their children because they did not have the tools to do so. So the uneducated Black community continued from generation to generation. Slavery built the wealth of White Americans, but Black Americans were left entirely out. The promise of 40 acres and a mule was not upheld, and as a result, Black Americans ended up as sharecroppers – just one level above slavery. As sharecroppers, they received meager pay for their labor and were required to pay to live on the plantation.

The Prison System

The prison system was created to keep slavery in play. Some people may ask why so many Black people are in prison. The fast answer is, the prison system was made for Black people, not for White people. The Black codes (laws) were put into place to arrest a Black person (mostly men) for free labor. Here again, families have broken apart, leaving mothers to raise children on their own and leaving black men unable to provide for their families. The prison system would also provide convict leasing to former slave owners for cheap labor, with the prison system profiting from this agreement.

Black Codes

Black Codes (1865) were put in place to reduce the influence of the free Black community (particularly after slave rebellions). These restrictions included a prohibition from:

  • Voting
  • Bearing arms
  • Gathering in groups for worship
  • Learning to read and write
  • Residing in certain states
  • Political rights
  • Attending public schools
  • Right to equal treatment

The defining feature of the Black Codes was broad vagrancy law, which allowed local authorities to arrest free Black people for minor infractions and commit them to involuntary labor. This period was the start of the convict lease system, also described as “Slavery By Another Name” by Douglas Blackmon in his 2008 book. Black Codes included the earlier Slave Codes and Vagrancy Laws.

Examples of Slave Codes:

  • Movement restrictions
  • Marriage restrictions
  • Prohibitions on gathering
  • Slave patrolling (which resembles policing of today)
  • Restriction of the rights to buy, sell, and produce goods
  • Prevention from earning money through independent farming

Codes allowed for no punishment or penalty for killing a Black person, which we still see today. Examples of Vagrancy Laws and Pig Laws that would land a free Black person in prison were:

  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment (Black people, especially Black men, were not given jobs and were prevented from having their own businesses. Thus, they would be unemployed. This was a qualification for being arrested and placed back into the prison system, a loophole to continue slavery. Black people had to present written proof of employment yearly, and if they did have this proof, they would be placed in prison.)
  • Poverty
  • Petty crimes
  • Begging
  • Increased penalties for those not in the military
  • Take custody of children whose parents could not support them. These children would then be apprenticed to their former owners
  • Buying liquor
  • Carrying a weapon (The right to bear arms was not created for Black Americans. Today, a Black man without a gun will get shot down by a police officer if a weapon is assumed. Yet, a White man can walk down the street with a gun without consequence. This point is underscored by simply comparing police responses to the Black Lives Matter’s protests of 2020 and the 2021 insurrection at the Capitol.)

Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow Laws (1892-1965) enforced racial segregation. The Jim Crow Laws intended to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by Black people during the Reconstruction Period. As a body of law, Jim Crow supported the exclusion of African Americans and institutionalized their economic, educational, and social disadvantages. Jim Crow Laws mandated the segregation of schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, drinking fountains, military, etc. Then, poll taxes and literacy and comprehension tests were put into place to disenfranchise Black voters. These literacy tests also affect poor White people who could not read. However, a grandfather clause allowed them to vote if someone in their family voted before them. As a result of such measures, Black voter turnout dropped drastically throughout the South. For instance, by 1900 in Louisiana, Black voters were reduced to 5,320 when they comprised most of the state’s population. This decline continued from year to year. In North Carolina, Black voters were completely eliminated from voter rolls from 1896 to 1904. Black people suffered from being rendered invisible to the political system, and the growth of their thriving middle class slowed. Within a decade of disfranchisement, the white supremacy campaign erased the image of the Black middle class from the minds of White North Carolinians.

Urban Renewal and Gentrification

Urban renewal, where Black families were thrown out of their homes and not provided relocation services, heightened in the early to the mid-20th century. In 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act gave the state and federal government complete control over new highways. These highways were often routed directly through vibrant urban neighborhoods, so White people could spread further into the suburbs and continue working in the city. Black families that had their homes and communities destroyed now had to find housing options deeper in the inner cities. Segregation continued to increase as communities were displaced. Gentrification is alive and thriving even today

Legal Disenfranchisement

Legal disenfranchisement became a significant barrier to U.S. ballot boxes at the end of the Civil War and the expansion of suffrage to Black men. At that point, two interconnected trends combined to make disenfranchisement a major obstacle for newly enfranchised Black voters. First, lawmakers - especially in the South - implemented a slew of criminal laws designed to target Black citizens. And, nearly simultaneously, many states enacted broad disenfranchisement laws that revoked voting rights from anyone convicted of any felony. These two trends laid the foundation for the form of mass disenfranchisement seen in this country today. One in every 13 voting-aged African Americans cannot vote, a disenfranchisement rate more than four times greater than that of all other Americans. In four states, more than one in five Black adults are denied their right to vote.

War on Drugs

Before the War on Drugs, college enrollment of Black men was gaining ground. Then, the War on Drugs policies unjustly balanced toward Black men, in which the same amount of drugs in possession of a Black man deemed a greater punishment than that for a White man. The War on Drugs sent thousands of Black men to prison, and studies show that it may have locked many out of their potential to attend college. It is also suspected that parts of the government were involved with funneling drugs into Black communities, thus causing mass incarceration and decreasing college enrollment. And also many universities are investing in the prison system which it seems to be a real conflict of interest. Universities are actually making a profit off of the number of prisoners residing in a particular prison. These investments should be focused on keeping young adults out of prison and pipelining them from high school to college. History repeatedly shows many disadvantages that Black people have had to overcome. Even after gaining rights in many areas, Black people still have had to fight against housing discrimination and the right to obtain business loans. Many Black women fought for women’s right to vote, but it was not until Black people were given the right to vote that Black women could also vote. Affirmative Action was one program put in place to give Black people a better chance to gain employment in major corporations. But even this small step was taken away quickly. Finally, nepotism fuels some of the more recent disparities hidden in history. Many times, other minorities are able to take advantage of the rights that Black people have fought for and, therefore, leave even less room for Black people (White women, other races, etc.) And many times, other minorities that benefit from the fight against Black people do not acknowledge that it was, in fact, Black people who paved the way for the rights of all people.

Conclusion

In May 2020, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, was one of the countless murders resulting from a long history of inequality, brutality, and the unbalanced opportunity scales in U.S. society. While the situation was not unique, the aftermath was. Global communities, governmental leaders, neighbors, and Corporate America finally started to wake up as the world entered its long-overdue age of racial equity and justice reform.

In May 2020, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, was one of the countless murders resulting from a long history of inequality, brutality, and the unbalanced opportunity scales in U.S. society. While the situation was not unique, the aftermath was. Global communities, governmental leaders, neighbors, and Corporate America finally started to wake up as the world entered its long-overdue age of racial equity and justice reform. Many began reflecting internally, asking, “what can I do to help?” Others took a more public position by posting their support across social media platforms. And some took immediate action. However, we cannot create lasting change for a more equal tomorrow without empathy for and understanding of the past. Particularly as it relates to Corporate America’s role in fueling the systemic failures of today. Our brief look back at Black history and narrative assassinations provides a foundation to the age-old question, “how did we get here?’ Now, we can focus on where we are going, and Corporate America’s unquestionable responsibility to help establish the next society that is more equitable for all. That society first begins with Corporate America shifting its mindset on impact. Philanthropic donations to local charities are necessary for maintaining a community, but they don’t always lead to long-lasting change. As cornerstones of their communities, businesses have an obligation to:

  • Provide tactical support for their local school districts
  • Be an active participant in community programs focused on education, healthcare, and law enforcement relations
  • Establish school-room-to-conference-room pathways to give local students the opportunity to have a fulfilling career within the community they grew up in
  • Create an inclusive and supportive workplace culture that gives diverse employee groups to have the platform they need to share their experience, stories, and feedback
  • Be purposeful in their approach to equity and inclusion
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