Everyone Versus Racism
“There seems to be a quest to get back to a level of normalcy. But that’s not good enough, because normalcy meant exclusion; it meant looking at disparity and shrugging. The thing we should be aiming for is a new normal that’s founded in justice — not just criminal justice, but economic justice.”
-Wes Moore, CEO, Robin Hood,1 quoted in the NYT2
Veterans in the struggle for racial justice are saying that the momentum of the protests and Black Lives Matter conversations happening right now is different — and have a chance of creating real change. We welcome this, and recognize it may be, in part, a consequence of the novel circumstances of our social existence as a result of the coronavirus. Optimists say that every cloud has its silver lining; perhaps a chance to take some dramatic steps forward towards racial and economic justice is our silver lining in the pandemic cloud.
The tragically long history of excessive police violence against black citizens moved from photographs and newspapers to video in 1992, with Rodney King, and included Oscar Grant in 2009 and so many others nationally and locally. From these stories, we can find several narrative metaphors that can guide our understanding and our actions for change moving forward.
“I Can’t Breathe”
In 2014, Eric Garner gasped these words in New York City, as did George Floyd in Minneapolis. The phrase epitomizes an attempt at communication from blacks to whites, and graphically communicates the distress not only of black men and women in police custody but the broader community in America. Attempts to cooperate with police have too often ended in injury or death for black Americans, and attempts to participate in community and economic life have been met with equally discriminatory actions. Redlining, hostile work environments, a lack of medical and family-friendly benefits in jobs dominated by low-wage and black workers — all this adds up to a stifling environment. It doesn’t provide the storied opportunity that our capitalist democracy prides itself on.
Recent and ongoing protests were sparked by George Floyd’s death, but they are raising needed conversation about the pervasive socio-economic divide in our country. As financial advisors, we are always looking for the relationship between the qualitative and quantitative data to support actions that move our clients in the right direction. While on the surface racism and the wealth divide may appear to impact only on the underprivileged, underemployed and undereducated, recent studies have shown that the systematic injustices against the African American community holds back our entire economy. As comedian and CNN host W. Kamau Bell says, “…if the world is more equitable and just for black people and people of color, it’s automatically better for white people. This is truly the rising tide that lifts all boats.”3 McKinsey issued a study in 2019 confirming this notion, calculating that the racial wealth gap dampens both consumption and investment, and that closing that gap could add 4 to 6 percent to GDP in the next ten years.4
One area in which the black experience differs from the white experience is access to capital to start or expand a business. Lack of access to capital is like a chokehold that can destroy the lifeblood of minority-owned businesses. In addition to loans or a line of credit, an ongoing relationship with a bank can provide other benefits to a business owner. Often, technical assistance and mentorship can make a difference to a successful expansion, as well as nimble responses to the many challenges all businesses encounter over time. The recent Payroll Protection Program loans ended up being available primarily to businesses with these existing banking relationships, which meant many small businesses had limited access to funds.
Witness and Act
Colin Kaepernick’s actions in 2016 protested not only police brutality but racial injustice, and changed and expanded the meaning of “taking a knee” on the field. Kids learn early in organized sports that when someone is injured on the field, you take a knee immediately both as a sign of respect, and also to stay out of the way while the people who can render assistance step out and do so. Today the broad conversation about the difference in experience between black American and white America is illustrating that the black community is “injured on the field,” and that (mostly white) people in positions of power and influence must step out on the field to help.
Kaepernick’s action also made it possible for police officers to “take a knee” to defuse negative energy during recent protests. Their message was clear — a sign of respect for the injured, and a message that they don’t want to hinder the path towards resolution of injury. They showed us that at a protest it isn’t police versus citizens, and that public safety officers can be in partnership with protesters. It doesn’t have to be white versus black, it can be everyone versus racism.
Wes Moore, quoted in our subtitle, said, “If you’re not thinking about how you can use your company to promote justice, then you’re not doing your job as a chief executive.” Leaders cannot ignore the broad-based action underway today, and they are in a position to act. Across our country in businesses large and small, in nonprofit organizations, in local and larger government agencies, in schools and churches and synagogues; we are all in a position to promote racial and economic justice.
Close the Experience Gap
In our industry and many others, opportunities for education, mentorship, internship and employment can start to shrink the experience gap. It comes from people with experience and resources sharing those experiences, and it leads to collaboration that can build momentum to close the gap. Changing work norms and social norms is incremental, and comes from a multitude of voices. It’s easy to fear what we do not understand, so, seek to understand the experience of someone from a radically different background. Once you do, you can also begin to understand how our social policies and public spaces treat black and white differently, and you can seek to change those policies, and inhabit space differently.
If you are white, anyone you know that is black has an entirely different experience. The experience of going to school, raising their children, looking for a job, shopping, applying for a permit at a government office, volunteering their time for a nonprofit, supporting elderly parents — even the simple acts of driving and walking down the sidewalk — their experience is different than yours. Open your eyes and be observant, open your ears and listen.
If you have experiences and skills others might be in interested in learning, offer them. Offer a seminar to high school students in the basics of savings, compounding and investment. Offer a mentorship to a college student who doesn’t know anyone in your industry and can’t find who to ask for it. Offer to finance someone else taking a chance with their time and going to school — fund scholarships. Offer to go in with friends who have the same motivation and their own good idea; offer for them to join you as well.
Strength in Community
North Berkeley stands against racism. We stand against systemic economic inequality. We stand for inclusion and support of our community — our whole community. In our role as business owners and professionals, we have deliberately sought to recruit African American advisors and staff, and to direct our philanthropic dollars to organizations that provide a strong local support network for those who need it. The current public conversation is a supportive one for us at North Berkeley, helping us find new ways to put our energy and resources in the service of racial and economic equity.
As a community, with one another and not apart from one another, we can start to generate healing, and we can all be part of the positive energy toward a new normal that’s grounded in justice.
1 Robin Hood is a New York-based nonprofit focused on fighting poverty. Funded heavily by wealthy philanthropists of whom many are in — or made their wealth in — corporate leadership, this substantial nonprofit funds 200+ nonprofits annually to support the 1.8 million New Yorkers who live in poverty. Their mission is to “aggregate and allocate human and financial capital…to create long term solutions to alleviate poverty in New York and shared throughout the nation.” Wes Moore, a nationally prominent social advocate, has been their CEO since 2017.
2 David Gelles, “Corporate America has Failed Black America,” New York Times, June 6, 2020.
3Joe Garifoli, “Being a white ally of African Americans means more than just protesting,” SF Chronicle, June 6, 2020.
4 Nick Noel, Duwain Pinder, Shelley Stewart, and Jason Wright, “The economic impact of closing the racial wealth gap,” McKinsey & Company, August 13, 2019.
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