Voluntary Reparations and Corporate America: Not Just A Racial Imperative — A Business One
To the Wealthy, Powerful, and Truly Influential White CEO’s of America,
I have four questions for you, but first, I have to ask you to imagine an MBA school business case scenario.
I want you to imagine that you are Chairman and CEO of Amazon, Inc., a company of approximately 1.3 million employees worldwide and a market capitalization of $1.75 trillion. Then I want you to imagine that a division of your business — say Whole Foods or AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) — employed 12.6% (163,000+) of your employees. Finally, I want you to imagine that this business division and the approximately 163,000 people in it, were made to, year after year after year, operate under a charge against earnings in an amount equivalent to 61% of Amazon’s entire market capitalization and that every single employee was forced to bear the consequences of this charge not just corporately, but personally.
Imagine also that the following limitations to this case apply. First, you cannot sell off or liquidate the division. Second, no Federal Government “bailout” will be forthcoming to resolve your problem. And finally, there are organizations in both the public and private sector who oppose any transformative resolution of this matter, and they oppose it with passion, tenacity, and abundant resources. Some of those people are on your board.
So here are the questions:
1.) What is the name of the company?
2.) What is the name of the business division?
3.) Is this a problem worthy of your attention or concern?
4.) If it is, how would you tackle it?
1.) The name of the “company” is The United States of America.
2.) The name of the “business division” of the company is “the Black people in it.”
The burdensome, suffocating economic wet blanket of the $13.166 trillion net worth gap that Black people in America currently operate under, when calculated from 2019 Triennial Federal Reserve Board data and 2010 U.S. Census data is an amount of money that represents approximately 61% of this nation’s gross national product. This amount fluctuates, but it is always massive and it is always unjust.
3.) Yes, it is a problem worthy of your concern. There is no sane CEO in America who would abide such a situation. And yet, year after year, the United States of America has.
In the wake of last week’s address to Congress by President Joe Biden, both Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican, stated that the United States of America is not a racist nation. But it is abundantly clear that America is indeed a racist nation. It is not as racist in law and in practice as it previously was, and gallant efforts for change are being made at every level and strata of society; but the forces arrayed to maintain the racist status quo and to reimpose the status quo ante are formidable, and in some cases and places, making strides. While the “CEO grunt” plods along through the muck and mire, keeping his or her head down, their societal profile low, and their quarterly earnings reports high, the “CEO visionary” perceives just how untenable such a situation is for his or her business long-term and the foundational underpinnings upon which the economy they operate in depends. The CEO visionary recognizes what William Butler Yeats knew spiritually and the author Chinua Achebe knew racially — that, where injustice and oppression linger and endure, “things fall part; the centre cannot hold.”
Every businessman knows that his workers must be paid and that if that worker dies on the way to picking up his paycheck, his child should be paid. He also knows that if his child dies on the way to picking up his father’s check, his grandchild should receive the undispersed wages. The fact that the company goes out of business or that the business owner dies stubbornly refusing to grant the worker or his progeny those wages neither changes the fact that they are owed, nor does it change his children need to receive them. All of us find ourselves approximately 156 years downstream from the day in 1865 when every previously enslaved American should have received just compensation (“forty acres and a mule” maybe?) for a lifetime of forced servitude and labor. That did not happen and so the debt of injustice — and all of its lynching, raping, redlining, terrorizing, segregating, and knee-on-the-neck consequences persist.
4.) I am betting that, if you were the CEO of the corporation described above, you would develop a plan to shift a certain amount of the profits from your other divisions into the division taking charges, so that division would have the resources and reserves it needed to get and stay profitable and so that 12.6% of your workforce would not be mired in the poverty, violence, and hopelessness that bearing so huge a write-off would bring if it were shouldered personally by your employees. You would do it because it was your fiduciary duty to your shareholders to maximize profits under the rules placed before you. You would do it because you know if you made that investment in something that was already a part of your corporation, it would grow, become profitable, and prosper all. And if all else failed, would do it because it was right. And you’d probably get some of those racist folks off your board as well.
That is what voluntary Reparations for the descendants of African slaves and their kin and kind means to me. And if you are a visionary CEO, I am betting you can see it too.
Now is the time to act.