Corporate hypocrisy on racism

Far from being the solution to systemic racism in America, these billionaires and their corporations are actively perpetuating it.

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SOURCERobert Reich

Wall Street banks and corporate executives have wasted no time trying to establish themselves as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, professing support for the historic protests against police killings of Black people. 

But when you peel back their PR stunts and press releases, the truth comes into focus: far from being the solution to systemic racism in America, these billionaires and their corporations are actively perpetuating it.

Consider Jamie Dimon, billionaire CEO of JPMorgan Chase, who recently took a knee before a lineup of cameras at a branch of his bank. In a statement, Dimon urged his employees to “be inclusive in our work and in the neighborhoods where we operate.” 

Let’s take a look at that inclusivity, shall we? In 2017, the bank paid $55 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against Black and Latino mortgage borrowers — causing some 53,000 borrowers tens of millions of dollars in damages. According to the lawsuit, even when the bank knew about the discrimination, they did nothing to stop it.

When it’s not discriminating against its customers, JPMorgan Chase is excluding Black people from its upper echelons of management. Just 4 percent of the bank’s top executives are Black, despite years of bragging about increasing diversity. Under Dimon, the bank also agreed to pay $19.5 million in a settlement for racial discrimination against Black employees in 2018.

It’s not just Chase. Larry Fink, CEO of the giant investment firm BlackRock, recently wrote a letter to colleagues opining that “These [racist] events are symptoms of a deep and longstanding problem in our society and must be addressed on both a personal and systemic level.” 

That’s rich, considering BlackRock is one of the largest investors in the notorious private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic. If Larry Fink was serious about addressing structural racism, he would stop BlackRock’s investment in an industry that disproportionately incarcerates and terrorizes Black and brown men.

It doesn’t end there. Wall Street even manages to profit off police brutality. Cities often issue municipal bonds to cover the costs of settlements related to wrongful police shootings, beatings, and imprisonments. These so-called “police brutality bonds” have earned banks and investors more than a billion dollars in profits in recent years. As if this weren’t egregious enough, banks – including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America – collect heavy fees on these bonds. Of course, this hasn’t stopped them from rolling out empty statements declaring “Black Lives Matter”.

Hypocrisy isn’t limited to Wall Street. Amazon has pledged to fight systemic racism but refuses to provide paid sick-leave to all warehouse and delivery workers, the majority of whom are people of color. 

Walmart, the nation’s largest corporate employer of Black Americans, recently announced that it would create a center on racial equality, but has overworked and mistreated its Black employees for decades. The company also donates to Republican politicians, including Senator Tom Cotton who openly called for the military to crack down on predominantly Black protestors. 

Similarly, AT&T, whose CEO called on companies to speak out against racism, has donated to Senator Rand Paul, who stalled legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime.

Many CEOs also fight against instituting a living wage and universal basic income, two policies that would lift more Black Americans out of economic oppression. 

And the very banks plastering Black Lives Matter banners on their websites not only oppose tighter regulations against red-lining, they also have provided $5.5 billion in credit to the payday lending industry. Of course, both redlining and payday lending disproportionately hurt Black and brown communities.

Don’t be fooled by glitzy press releases and flashy PR stunts. Wall Street and corporations profit from and reinforce systemic racism in America. 

We have the power — as their consumers, clients, and employees — to demand these companies and their CEOs stop their racist practices. It’s time they back up their lofty rhetoric with fundamental change.

Raise your voices, and stay vigilant.

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Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

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