Last year, as the country was undergoing its latest racial reckoning in the wake of the death of George Floyd, corporations were jumping at the chance to tweet pledges affirming that Black Lives Matter and to make statements about racial justice.
Some corporations went further, adding staff focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or taking a broader look at ways to advance racial equity from within.
These steps, while positive, may now ring hollow to many. If corporate America wants to be in this fight, it requires getting there early and staying late. Our democracy deserves no less.
Take, for example, the voting rights bills in Georgia, where major corporations declined to weigh in on the attempts to disenfranchise Black voters.
Pressure mounted. Coca-Cola and Delta reversed course in some way. For some, it was too little, too late.
But perhaps it’s a learning lesson for the many battles ahead.
The fight for racial equity and justice cannot be treated like a diet; it requires a lifestyle change.
Advancing racial justice requires weighing in on “thorny” issues. It is not just about showing up when it’s popular or trending on social media. In fact, it requires showing up when it’s not.
Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, who organized a letter from Black CEOs and business executives urging corporate America to take action, put it simply in an interview last week: “What we have heard from corporations is general statements about their support for voting rights and against voter suppression. But now we’re asking, put those words into action.”
Corporations that suggest voting rights arguments are simply partisan do not understand our history.
For Black Americans, advancing voting rights is essential to fulfilling the promise of truly equal citizenship. There have been attempts since our country’s founding to ensure that Black people did not fully participate in the electoral process. And while there’s certainly been much progress, voter suppression laws today seek to deny participation and access to full citizenship.
Further, this voting rights issue in particular is not an instance where there are two sides to an argument. Less access and participation makes our democracy weaker for all of us. The great American experiment flourishes when more people vote and when voting is easy and transparent. We must make it easier, safer and more convenient for all Americans to vote, period.
There will be many more opportunities for corporations to weigh in on the right side of history–in the 21st century, dozens of state legislatures are still attempting to roll back voting rights with laws that make it harder to vote. I, for one, look forward to corporations stepping forward more meaningfully in this work.
Founder & President, E Pluribus Unum