Corporate leadership needed on racial justice
7/29/2016, 7:30 p.m.
When North Carolina passed laws eliminating anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and passed its “bathroom bill” mandating that transgender people use the bathroom of their birth gender, they experienced almost immediate backlash.
Several artists canceled concerts and at least two corporations that had planned to locate corporate headquarters in North Carolina decided to move them elsewhere.
Now, the National Basketball Association says it will not play the NBA All-Star game in Charlotte, N.C., as planned. They threw the Queen City a bone by saying they “hope” they will play the games there in 2019, implying that they will play in Charlotte if the state changes their discriminatory laws by then.
Moving the All-Star game away from Charlotte is an economic blow to that city, and to the entire state. The three-day, activity-filled and star-studded event draws tens of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the city. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the NBA has a long record of speaking out against discrimination.
The North Carolina governor responded in an angry statement, saying the sports and entertainment industries have “maligned” the people of North Carolina and “misrepresented its laws.” He said, “American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on the communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process.”
I say that the NBA has offered corporate leadership on discrimination against LGBTQ people, and I applaud it. I am wondering, though, what it would take to get NBA and corporate leadership involved in the unnecessary shootings of African-Americans by law enforcement officials.
What if a few leaders in Fortune 50 companies took a position on the number of unarmed African-Americans killed by law enforcement officers. What if they said that in response to the killing of Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minn., they would reconsider their monetary commitment to this city or that?
To be sure, police organizations would push back, and hard, just as they have every time President Obama says something about the ways people have been slaughtered at the hands of police officers. Still, if corporate leadership even lifted up these shootings as a matter of concern, it might make a difference.
Or perhaps corporate leadership could use a carrot instead of a stick, making contributions to police training and arbitration in the name of corporate social responsibility. What if corporate leaders offered to support a few diversity leaders in developing training for police officers? What if corporate leaders convened some kind of gathering that talked about the correlation between police-community relations and corporate profits?
Unfortunately, corporate leadership has been mostly missing in action on racial justice matters because some corporations profit from racial and economic injustice. Those who manufacture the tanks that bulldoze through our city streets are making money from police aggression. Those who own the private prisons that profit from mass incarceration have no interest in minimizing arrests. And those who shilly-shally around economic justice find there is no down side to taking no position, a tepid one or an ambivalent one.
The NBA felt there was a downside in condoning North Carolina’s discrimination against LGBTQ people, such a downside that they would offer a crushing economic blow to that state. They don’t seem to care about the “collateral damage,” those folks who don’t discriminate but will still suffer because the All-Star game is going elsewhere. Few feel strongly enough about racial and economic justice to strike a similar blow against it. Instead, there is head shaking and hand wringing but no action.
What would be the outcome if even one corporate leader said, “We don’t like doing business in this environment”? What if just one corporate leader surveyed their African-American employees about their police interactions, including unjustified stops, “misidentification,” and the burden of WWB and BWB — walking while black and breathing while black?
What if just one corporation said “enough” about this nonsense?
I think corporate leadership on racial economic justice could make a difference. Where is the corporate leader bold enough to try?
The writer is an economist and author.