June 10, 2020
By: Hattie Hill
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?”
That question—posed by the great poet Langston Hughes—has been top of mind as I’ve watched recent anti-racist protests with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Will mass protests across the United States and around the world finally produce the change we’ve sought, not just for 50+ or 150+ years, but for more than 400 years, when the first Africans were brought to the shores of the continent in chains? Or will we, once again, go back to complacency and status quo?
This time does feel different. As a child of the 60s, I watched in horror as police used brute force to prevent black people from the right to vote, eat at lunch counters and live as fully equal human beings. Back then, the marchers and protesters were mostly black—though I don’t want to diminish the work of white civil rights activists like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who gave their lives helping to register black voters in Mississippi.
Today, millions of people of all races and ethnicities have come together to demand an end to systemic inequality—in large cities, small towns and affluent suburbs; in the North, South and Middle America and cities all over the world; and in places infamous for police violence like Ferguson, Missouri, where the police chief marched in lockstep with protesters, signaling, hopefully, the start of a new era in race relations.
Throughout the past few weeks, we’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity. Protesters standing guard in front of stores to prevent looting. Police and protesters taking a knee together. White allies using their privilege to shield black protesters from police violence. And sadly, we’ve seen bad actors—from far right-wing groups to looters to rogue police—mar these otherwise peaceful demonstrations and detract from the hopeful message.
As a business leader, I have tried to focus on ways to move the conversation forward, to harness this collective energy and passion to create meaningful change.
Dismantling generations of inequality won’t be achieved with the wave of a wand. Like all other social movements, the first step to creating change is to become educators. Not long ago, a white male CEO asked me: “Why should I care about racial injustice? We have COVID-19, our economy is choking, people are looting—why should I care about this?”
After taking a long moment to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, I responded in terms he could understand. “Do you care about the economy and humanity?” I asked, to which he replied “yes, of course.”
If you’re a business leader, you should support this movement—if for no other reason than it’s in your economic interests. According to the Black Economic Alliance, there are more than 45 million black Americans representing $1 trillion in annual buying power. Think about it. Who buys your products and services? We can’t come back from the economic wilderness without working together as Americans of all races and backgrounds.
Now, let’s move onto the second reason because, for most of us, humanity is more powerful than pure economics. As protests have unfolded, I’ve heard a lot of people mention violence and looting. In truth, estimates put episodes of violence and looting at only 3%. That means that 97% of protests have been largely peaceful. What’s more, police have been instigators of some of the violence, as seen in places like Buffalo, N.Y., where police officers shoved a 75-year-old protester to the ground and in New York City, where police vehicles plowed into crowds of protesters.
Public consensus is now very much on the side of the protesters—a sea change from six years ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement first formed. Polling shows that Americans, by a two-to-one margin, are more troubled by the actions of the police in the killing of George Floyd than by violence at protests. Most notably, a Monmouth poll found that, for the first time, most Americans, 57%, and 49% of white people believe that police are more likely to use excessive force against black people.
This shift isn’t lost on business. Over the past few weeks, many large multinational corporations have shared social media posts and statements sympathizing with the protestors and calling for large-scale reform in policing and the dismantling of institutions that have been unequal for far too long.
Why should you care about racism and inequality? You should care because no one wants to be on the wrong side of history. You should care because a majority of America and the world is clamoring for meaningful change—for acceptance, love, inclusion, equity, dignity and respect. You should care because it’s up to each of us to advance a “Platform for Progress,” becoming a force for good at the individual, organizational and community level.
We can all model good behavior. Listen and learn. Become an ally for diverse communities. Speak out against racism and discrimination. But most importantly, change the conversation to our shared humanity. America has always been strongest when we work together, whether putting a man on the moon or remaking our social fabric to live up to our ideals as a country where all men (and women) are truly created equal.
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