Below article discusses the neoliberal hijack of the current anti-black racism battle...
Following the global protests resulting from George Floyd's public lynching, there has been a systematic neoliberal takeover of the fight against anti-black racism. After a long period of racial silence, some of the great bastions of capitalism in the Anglo-American world such as Big Pharma, Big Banking, Big Technology and billionaires have found their voices.
These corporate entities have adopted a plethora of strategies to demonstrate their seriousness in addressing anti-black racial injustice such as the condemnation of racism, implementation of anti-bias training for employees and committing to improving diversity. Some have taken a market-based approach by making significant financial contributions to black anti-racist organizations. So far, corporate America has pledged $1.7 bn to anti-racist organizations. Corporate CEOs have written letters to their staff expressing their horror at the racial violence inflicted on black bodies. The phrase "Black Lives Matter" has been pasted on companies' websites along with links to books about racism.
The sudden "wokeness" of these purveyors of neoliberalism should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are several reasons for the immediate interest in anti-black racism. Corporate entities have chosen the path of least resistance by effectively reading the polls of popular opinion. Anglo-Saxon corporates have often been uncomfortable in addressing racism. With George Floyd's execution, the tide of the majority opinion has now turned in favour of condemning anti-black racism. An August 2015 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports revealed 78% of likely US voters had a favourable view of 'all lives matter', and only 11% favoured black lives matter. Another survey conducted by the same polling organization in June 2020 revealed 62%of likely voters had a favourable opinion of Black Lives Matter.
This shift in sentiments makes it convenient to jump unto the racial justice bandwagon with little risk. With their corporate paymasters' new-found racial epiphany, celebrities who were previously silent on anti-black racism are coming out of their shells.
Another reason for the sudden change is it makes economic sense for these organizations to follow the racial tide. With opinion polls bending towards racial justice, firms face the risk of losing out if their values are not in line with its customers who may refrain from buying its products. By embracing brand activism, companies can broaden their reach and increase sales. Furthermore, self-preservation is another motive. As anti-black racism is seared into our collective consciousness, the linkage between racism and capitalism might come to the fore. By participating in the racial justice movement, the elites might turn the direction away from the cause of racial inequality to the symptom.
Black thinkers have discussed the connection between racism and capitalism. Malcolm X once said, "You can't have capitalism without racism." Martin Luther King analyzed the interrelationship between the triplets of racism, economic injustice and militarism. Ibram Kendi, in his groundbreaking book How To Be An Anti-racist described racism and capitalism as conjoined twins. Cedric Robinson, a professor of Black Studies, coined the term racial capitalism, which represents the social and economic gain derived from a person's racial identity.
Capitalism has often thrived on a colour-coded hierarchy of winners and losers. The result of Christopher Colombus expedition in search of gold and spices which was financed by the King and Queen of Spain was the genocide of Native Americans. One of the key drivers of the British industrial revolution was textile manufacturing. The input for the imported cotton came from the blood, sweat and tears of black slaves working on the plantations of America. Some commentators have described slavery as the foundation of American capitalism. Following the Berlin Conference of 1884, Britain, Belgium, Portugal and France became economic powerhouses on the bent and broken backs of black men and women in colonial Africa. A manifestation of the prison industrial complex is the prevalence of black and brown people caged in the prison cells of Britain and the US. Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, argues, "Prisons are big business and have become deeply entrenched in America's economic and political system. Rich and powerful people ...., have invested millions in private prisons."
Neoliberal tenets such as deregulation, veneration of property rights, privatization, globalization, automation, tax cuts, austerity, labour flexibility and free trade have led to increased inequalities which have significantly impacted people of colour in the Anglo-Saxon world. On socio-economic issues such as education, health care, policing, criminal justice, wealth disparity, and housing, blacks have found themselves at the bottom of the socio-economic totem pole. There is a paradox when these bastions of neoliberalism advocate for racial justice while at the same time support an ideology that reinforces this inequality.
Big Banking has taken the lead in the clamour for racial justice. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase knelt to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Bank of America pledged $1bn over four years to help communities of colour and minority-owned businesses address economic and racial inequality. Goldman Sachs established a $10 million fund for racial equity. Morgan Stanley's CEO James Gorman was so moved by the protests that he decided to promote two black women to the bank's operating and management committees. Black senior executives in financial institutions who had been reluctant to discuss racism have begun to speak out. Citigroup's CFO Mark Mason wrote a blog detailing the dangers black Americans face in their daily lives while a Goldman Sachs black managing director wrote an email on race which went viral.
Though these gestures might come across as altruistic, it is crucial to carry out a racial cost/benefit analysis. Malcolm X once said, "When someone sticks a knife into my back nine inches and then pulls it out six inches they haven't done me any favor. And if they pull that knife which they stuck in my back all the way out they still have not done me any favor. They should not have stabbed me in the back in the first place." Nine years before Jamie Dimon knelt in support of Black people killed by the police, JP Morgan Chase, under his leadership donated $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation. Commentators described the gift (used to purchase patrol car laptops and security monitoring software) as the "Largest in the history of the foundation."
Financial institutions have been involved in predatory lending practices which target people of colour. In 2011, Citigroup granted loans to black Americans with rates 3.38-times more than other borrowers while Wells Fargo & Co and JP Morgan Chase charged blacks borrowers 2.28 times and 2.21 times higher than other borrowers. In 2017, the Department of Justice fined JP Morgan Chase $55 million for charging 53,000 Black and Latino borrowers higher rates and fees on mortgage loans relative to white borrowers. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup have also settled lawsuits for discriminating against African American and Hispanic customers. Financial institutions spent $2 billion during the 2018 election cycle on lobbying and campaign contributions to overturn regulations meant to protect customers from predatory lending practices and risky financial decisions.
The global pharmaceutical industry is also addressing anti-black sentiments. Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca CEOs have all voiced their concern about racism. Johnson & Johnson and Regeneron pledged $10 million and $3 million respectively to address racial inequality. Paradoxically, Big Pharma is one of the leading lobbying industries and has been in opposition to healthcare reforms and lowering of drug prices, which could benefit people of colour who are on the wrong side of the health inequality divide. An investigation by Bath University revealed Big Pharma poured 57m Euros into UK patient charities which could influence NHS drug decision-makers.
In its short history, Big Technology has spoken up on several social causes. Silicon Valley's presence has been felt in the ongoing quest for black racial justice. Airbnb donated $500,000 to NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Foundation. On Twitter, Amazon wrote, "Amazon stands in solidarity with the Black community." It also made a $10m contribution to 11 black human rights organizations. Nextdoor CEO, Sarah Friar, in a blog wrote, "Let me say it unequivocally: Racism has no place on Nextdoor." Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey made a $3 million donation to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp. On Linkedin, the social media professional networking platform, people have been posting images of themselves holding cardboards with inscriptions like #I am positive grateful hopeful #TalkAboutBlack.
But a fanciful hashtag should not be used gloss over the role these organizations played and are still playing in perpetuating racial inequality. There have been numerous instances whereby blacks have been racially profiled on Airbnb and Nextdoor platforms. Employees at Amazon have complained about the stringent targets they face, which leads to them urinate in bottles or forgo toilet breaks. Amazon, IBM and Microsoft only recently decided to stop selling facial recognition software to the police. Amazon has frustrated attempts by its workers to unionize. According to a report by Action Center on Race & the Economy, Amazon has used its platform to spread white supremacy, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia. People of colour residing near technology hotspots like the broader Bay Area and Silicon Roundabout have found themselves priced out due to gentrification.
Some billionaires have also been inflicted with the "wokeness" bug. Bill Gates has vowed to fight systematic racism and said black lives matter. Jezz Bezos, the world's richest man, has been transformed into a race man. He made headline news when he called out a customer for racism. It is one thing to talk the talk to end racial discrimination, but another to walk the walk to end racial and social inequality. Gates and Bezos don't appear to be in a hurry to support the reconstruction of an economic system which has resulted in their combined wealth exceeding the total wealth of 47.8 million African Americans. Paradoxically, Gates, who now says black lives matter also sees Africa's population growth as a challenge. When Elizabeth Warren, the former US Presidential candidate announced her plan to create a more equitable society by unwinding tax cuts and imposing a wealth tax, she came within the crosshairs of the billionaire class. Lloyd Blankfein, the senior chairman at Goldman Sachs, responded to Warren in a racially insensitive manner, "Maybe tribalism is just in her DNA." Other billionaires like Bill Gates and Jamie Dimon also expressed concerns.
Where do we go from here?
The gesture from corporations and the ultra-rich is not a vice, and it might be good intended. However, those on the forefront in the fight against anti-black racism need to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Activists receiving funds from these purveyors of neoliberalism need to exercise caution and ensure that s/he who pays the pier does not dictate the tune. There should be proper accounting for the funds from corporate and individual donors, and it should be used for its original purpose. Failure to do so would bring the struggle into disrepute.
The anti-black racial campaign should continue to be a bottom-up mass movement as opposed to a top-down led one. Campaigners should draw the link between capitalism and racism and not allow it to be hijacked by deep-pocketed benefactors who may try to downplay the role of neoliberalism in perpetuating racial inequality. Big Pharma, Big Technology and Big Banking should collectively make a public apology for their role in championing an enabling environment that allows racial inequality and anti-black racism to thrive. They should put their money where their mouth is by putting pressure on government officials to create a conducive atmosphere for racial equality and also call for a radical redistribution of wealth. Firms like Goldman Sachs should use the influence of its alumni working in government to bend public policy towards racial and economic justice. Firms should stop obstructing healthcare and campaign lobbying reforms. The recent move by corporates to boycott organizations like Facebook due to hate speech is a step in the right direction. They should put pressure on media houses and think tanks to refrain from promoting racial hatred and racial inequality. Big technology organizations that gentrified communities of colour should invest in affordable housing for those impacted.
A clear distinction needs to be made between corporate diversity and racial equality. With the ongoing protest, corporates are adopting token solutions towards racial equality by promoting a few black faces in their organizations to showcase the progress they are making. Symbolic gesture solves nothing other than creating a class of black faces in high places. The current approach of diversity training, which is not challenging to the status quo should be discontinued. Anti-black diversity training should be separated from other strands of diversity, including racial diversity. Black neoliberal minded professionals piggybacking on George Floyd's death to further their career should question their motives and advocate for real change that benefits all across the black social strata.
Finally, anti-black racial campaigners should ensure that the current movement does not in the words of Professor Cornel West become sterilized and santaclausified for a neoliberal audience. When Martin Luther King was alive, he was a thorn in the flesh to the racial and economic status quo. Upon his death, Big Business and politicians stripped his legacy of its revolutionary fervour and converted it to a 35-word soundbite made in Washington and now used to justify a colourblind world. If we let down our guards, this movement could be sterilized and santaclausified to a slogan, a hashtag, a knee, a token, a selfie and a fashion accessory - Timeo Danaos et Dona Ferentes.
About The Author
Ahmed Olayinka Sule is a CFA Charterholder, photojournalist and social critic. He is an Alumnus of the University of Arts, London; where he obtained a Certificate in Photojournalism. He has worked on various photojournalism projects including Obama: The Impact, Jesus Christ: The Impact, The Williams Sisters etc. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @Alatenumo
** Jamie Dimon drops into Mt. Kisco Chase branch, takes a knee with staff https://trib.al/4ZxP2sG
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