Ben Cohen is the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s. Steven Jumper is the co-founder of Ghost Note, a proudly black-owned creative agency in Washington, DC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
City streets and hearts across America are smoldering. For generations, black parents have feared for the safety of their children every time they walk out the door. Black men and women fear they may never return home every time they face a routine encounter with police. Many corporations, brands and so-called influencers benefit from and co-op the undeniable impact of black culture and then disregard the very pain and plights of black consumers. And now, black Americans watch as the President of the United States tweets, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” directly inspired by some of the most hateful moments of our past.
The time for tepid and delicate corporate statements is over. Racial bias workshops simply will not do. Now is the time for American business leaders who truly believe in justice for all and despise racism to take real and substantial action.
Black consumers know their power and influence. Strategies for real change and economic empowerment are being crafted in boardrooms as we speak.
Here is our call to action for American businesses ready to join the fight against systemic racism.
Support black entrepreneurs
So many black Americans dream of becoming entrepreneurs. Areas like Tulsa’s Greenwood District, Harlem in New York and Washington’s U Street and H Street corridors have a rich history of black innovation, ingenuity and brilliance.
And yet, these places — along with many other American communities — are no longer brimming with the same volume of black-owned storefronts and ventures. Systemic discrimination throughout our banking and financial institutions has left many black entrepreneurs with little access to funding, credit and the other resources required to take the next step in growth. It is critical that America’s most influential businesses and business leaders truly support black-owned businesses and help cultivate the next generation of black entrepreneurs.
Hire and empower black employees — junior and senior alike
It is not enough to simply hire more black employees. Without diverse representation at the highest levels of management and honest dialogue about race throughout the organization, America’s leading companies will continue to encounter the very same battles with racism that the country is experiencing today. So many brands have faced backlash in recent years over insensitive ads and stunts depicting blackface and racist imagery. These embarrassments could have easily been avoided by having vocal and empowered black leaders at the table.
Hold police, vendors and contractors accountable
America’s leading corporations must understand where their partners, vendors and contractors stand on the issue of race. Companies should use their purchasing power to support vendors that share their values and commitment to racial equity and justice within their businesses and across society. And companies should join us in boycotting partners, vendors and contractors with histories of discrimination and outright racism. This commitment should include ending business engagements and relationships with local and state law enforcement that have poor records on matters of racial bias and police brutality.
Less talk, more funding
Companies and executives need to put their money where their mouth is. If they want to effectuate deep and lasting change at political, economic and social levels, they can start by funding the organizations and movements doing the work of eradicating systemic racism. In recent days, we have seen some bold statements by companies like Peloton and Levi’s, which have pledged real money to organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fundand the American Civil Liberties Union.
Use power for justice
There are over 11,000 lobbyists in DC and big business spends nearly $3 billion per year to influence legislation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s in addition to all the corporate PAC contributions to curry favor. The reality is that if business truly wanted to change our laws to end qualified immunity so that cops are held accountable, it would be done. The time has long passed for business to use its undeniable political power for justice.
Black Americans and all those who yearn for justice — in our country and around the world — are watching. The actions of America’s business leaders will be judged by black people and all conscious consumers who stand against racism. Those generations to come will look back to the actions we take right now in this most important moment. And ultimately, history will tell a clear story of both those companies and leaders who stood for justice and those that chose to remain silent.