How Far Are You Willing to Go for Racial Equality?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because change requires action from you. Today.
By Daniel Malloy
Are you as brave as Benjamin Lay? The 4-foot-7 Philadelphian walked into a Quaker yearly meeting, thrust his sword into a book filled with red juice and splattered his fellow elites in fake blood. “God [would] shed the blood of those persons who enslave[d] their fellow creatures,” Lay roared on Sept. 19, 1738.
The path to change is often long and uneven. A year after Lay’s stunt, real blood was shed when veteran Angolan warriors led the Stono Rebellion. Juneteenth was still 126 bloody years away. With rebellion once again pulsing in America’s streets, public opinion shifting and political leaders straining to keep up, today’s OZY Magazine examines the road ahead. The destination: real change or bust. Tell us your big idea by hitting reply.
But first, a little context …
Worthwhile Change Is Never Easy, or Guaranteed
- Movements That Ostensibly Worked: Martin Luther King Jr. revolutionized the use of nonviolent resistance to combat racial injustice in the United States, but the Baptist preacher did not always believe in that approach. In fact, early on, King relied on armed guards for his protection until an older Quaker activist named Bayard Rustin walked into his home and changed the direction of the civil rights movement. Similarly, while Malcolm X famously opposed nonviolence, he too had a change of heart after completing the hajj to Mecca just a year before he was assassinated. Check out “The Ballot or the Bullet,” the speech Malcolm X delivered just a day before he departed on his pilgrimage. Then hear about King’s progression to nonviolence on OZY.
- Falling Short: They were here first, yet the systematic extermination of Native Americans and expropriation of their lands formed the basis of America’s white wealth. Native Americans, who make up just 1.3 percent of the population today, may have limited political power, but they’ve still committed to bold actions, most notably the occupations of Alcatraz, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Reservations remain mired in poverty, though, and Native Americans are killed by police at even higher rates than Black people, which may explain why they’ve been a visible part of the protests following George Floyd’s death.
- Global Lessons: South Africa, fresh from its abhorrent apartheid past, was the first nation to confront its racial trauma head-on. Nelson Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. Guatemala, Nigeria, Rwanda and other countries followed suit. While hardly a cure-all, such a commission is worth considering as the U.S. faces its own racist history. Imagine police officers guilty of brutality participating in an honest review with the space to admit mistakes and push for fixes. It could happen with the right support from leaders such as Sens. Mitt Romney or Tim Scott. A candid truth-telling that goes beyond phone video is critical. Read more on OZY.
- Roadblocks Ahead: There are too many obstacles to count, but we’ll list three: 1) Apathy. Passions fade, and the movement could peter out before achieving real change, having run up against intractable white complacency. 2) Politics. Just last week, the U.S. Senate had a chance to pass a modest police reform bill but didn’t. It was blocked by Democrats who didn’t want Republicans to get credit as reformers for baby steps in an election year. Democrats passed their own bill in the House, but this impasse, focused on qualified immunity for officers, will likely last until November. 3) COVID-19. The pandemic is only accelerating in the U.S., which could lead to greater societal fear of becoming sick, or even state-led clampdowns.
- The Path to 100 Black Billionaires: Who doubts that our national discourse would be different if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were Black? Or if a Black CEO was in charge of Facebook’s investments and policy? Forbes’ most recent list identified 614 billionaires in the U.S., only six of whom are Black. Wealth, like it or not, means power. To truly Reset America, we need to set a goal of minting 100 Black billionaires who can push from inside the corridors of power, while a broad movement agitates outside. How? Here’s a thought: Maximize intergenerational wealth transfer for Black families at the high end by eliminating their estate tax, and for families earlier in the journey by increasing the cap on mortgage interest tax deductions so they can accumulate value in their homes to combat the history of redlining.
- Defund the Police — Carefully. The slogan caught many off guard, but the impetus behind defund the police is a serious call to action — and one that should force us to reimagine how we provide for the safety and well-being of our communities. An idea that grew out of the abolish prisons movement of the 1970s and ’80s championed by veteran activist Angela Davis and others is finding its moment — starting in Minneapolis. Considering that only 4 percent of police officers’ time is spent on violent crime, there must be a smarter way to allocate scarce resources. We can also look beyond our borders for inspiration: Sweden deploys health teams that respond to issues facing the mentally ill, Scotland treats violence as a public health issue and Scandinavia offers a rehabilitation-focused alternative to the prison-industrial complex. America has a lot of headroom to bring greater humanity and dignity to its public services. Of course, none of those European countries may be an easy analog to the U.S., which has 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, but just 5 percent of the world’s population. But their approaches are worth considering given the clear failures of the status quo. And importantly, such a move can redirect precious public dollars toward other sorely needed services.
- Correct the Miseducation: We need more than a woke reading list. Schools must completely change their Eurocentric structure, which includes a restrictive style of learning that turns teachers into “accidental slave masters,” in the words of one academic. Take a cue from private equity titan Robert Smith and publicly commit to making historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) free to all attendees with a smart superfund. Or, even more of the moment, use remote digital learning to realize the promise of Brown v. Board and truly desegregate how we educate Black students. Read more on OZY.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Quotas. From university admissions to corporate executive suites and boards to key public offices (the DA’s office, school boards, chambers of commerce), we must ensure a more diverse power structure. Germany already requires advisory boards of large companies to be at least 30 percent female; in India, the world’s largest democracy, 50 percent of public university seats and government posts are reserved by law for people from castes that have historically faced discrimination.
- Elect More Black Leaders. Congress is improving (the 116th is the most racially diverse in history, with 22 percent people of color, including 10 percent Black), but it still falls short of racial proportions that reflect the nation — particularly in the Senate. And there are no Black governors right now. None. Zero. That needs to change. How about establishing public funding mechanisms for Black and other minority candidates to lessen the financial barriers to public office? Or better yet, let’s truly level the playing field by making all political activity publicly funded.
- Enact Reparations. It’s past time to acknowledge the plundering of generations and to right the financial wrongs that continue to leave Blacks so far behind in terms of generational wealth. Just six years ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates reopened the conversation on reparations with his provocative piece in The Atlantic that documented the 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow and 35 years of redlining that have deeply and structurally disadvantaged generations of Black Americans — and for which America must make amends. While many have dismissed the idea as too expensive, or outlandish, America’s $3 trillion stimulus in the wake of the pandemic has shown that we can move mountains if needed; one would be hard-pressed to argue that our racial inequity is a less pernicious pandemic and undeserving of dedicated stimulus.
- Vote Out Trump. This is not a partisan statement. The election of Donald Trump and his conduct in office have emboldened racists from sea to shining sea. Watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented spikes in hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election — a trend that has been sustained over the course of his term, according to Brookings, whose report shows an anomalous correlation between incidents of prejudiced violence and counties where Trump won with larger margins. With November around the corner, removing him from the world’s biggest stage may let a good deal of air out of the hate balloon. But also be aware: The fight is much bigger than one man.
What You Can Do
- Make the Difficult Choice to Diversify Your Life. Look around. Your church, your kids’ school, your friend group, your barbershop and your gym are probably all full of people who look like you. However, the single biggest unlock to addressing our nation’s racial inequities relies on individuals making the collective commitment to live more-integrated lives. Would you send your kids to a more integrated school? Would you change employers to work alongside Black and Latinx and other minority co-workers? Would you bring your family to a new place of worship if it meant more fully integrating your social world? Building relationships across racial lines is the first step to understanding, empathy and, ultimately, a sense of shared fate that will demand real change.
- Speak Up. Openly advocate for change, whether that’s on social media or over (socially distant) drinks with friends. Don’t be afraid to talk about race. Check out this clip from earlier this year when South African comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah said Americans tend to avoid the subject of racism — to their detriment. “Dude, I’m not saying you did slavery,” Noah says. “Calm down.”
- Step Up. Run for local office or volunteer to help a candidate who shares your values. Political change is a long-term play, and you have to be in the game to play.
- 30-Day Justice Cleanse. We’ve put together a handy guide for how to change your perspective and the world around you over the course of one month. Read more on OZY.
What Businesses Can Do
- It Starts with the CEO. Leadership counts. Look no further than Darren Walker — one of our 86 Angelic Troublemakers — who, since taking over as president of the mega-philanthropy Ford Foundation in 2013, has shifted its $12 billion endowment to tackle one key issue: inequality. Others to watch: Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind Snacks, which facilitates cultural exchanges, and Joe Sanberg, the Blue Apron founder tackling poverty.
- Capitalize Black. The word “black” is a color, so capitalize it when using it as an adjective for people. Always.
- Make Their Own Reparations. While the government has been seen as the main driver here, corporations are under increasing pressure to institute their own form of reparations. The insurer Lloyd’s of London, which profited from slavery, apologized for its past and said it was committing money to Black charities. Georgetown University stepped up last year. Next up? Banks whose predecessors profited from slavery.
- Educate and Discuss. Companies should create two-year plans for propelling the careers of staffers to form a more diverse C-suite. And they should make those plans public while tracking bonuses and reducing ridiculously high salaries across management. For new hires, stop asking about criminal records and start using AI. Read more on OZY.
- Buy Black, Boycott Offenders. The 1921 burning of Black Wall Street by white rioters serves as a reminder that Black businesses have long been targeted, as have Black homeowners, with everything from mortal violence to racist redlining policies. So while some may argue it’s wrong to buy from Black businesses specifically because they are Black, we see it as making up for lost time. For companies, the 15 percent pledge by Aurora James — another of our Angelic Troublemakers — is a good place to start. Also, consumers and businesses should be ready to vote with their wallets and boycott companies whose policies promote racial discrimination or exacerbate historical inequalities. Remember, economic boycotts helped end apartheid in South Africa — and just yesterday moved Mississippi legislators toward removing the Confederate emblem from their state’s flag. Companies could do the same in U.S. cities with particularly troublesome track records. American companies could do the same in cities with particularly troublesome track records. Read more on OZY.
- Research and Innovate. More than simply promoting diverse practices, businesses have the opportunity to invest in creating new solutions for racial injustice — from discovering best community practices to developing more-equitable AI systems (which are only as racially aware as their creators). Maybe start with racial discrepancies in motion sensors. How is it possible that bathroom soap or paper towel dispensers still struggle to “see” Black hands?
What Policymakers Can Do
- Reparations, but How? There’s little momentum in Congress even for a bill to study reparations, and specifics have been thin. How about a GI Bill for Black Americans, complete with a presidential Cabinet position to shepherd a Reconstruction-era rethink that can truly Reset America. Researchers have shown that the GI Bill was written in a way that, due to redlining, ended up shutting the doors of prosperity to 1.2 million Black veterans. What if a modern-day GI Bill, set aside for the descendants of slaves and those affected by racism, could be the long sought-after solution for reparations? Zero percent down mortgages for first-time homebuyers, free or greatly reduced tuition at public colleges and other perks could help level the playing field for future generations. And to get the right onboard, call it a tax cut or include widespread vouchers. Also Read: Six historical examples of reparations in Vox; The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, by Randall Robinson; and OZY’s history of “40 acres and a mule.”
- Stop Funding Schools With Local Property Taxes. A recent report found that nonwhite schools receive $23 billion less than predominantly white schools, because richer school districts draw on a richer property tax base. States and the federal government have been unable to completely close the gap by routing money to poor districts. This is why taxation and school funding should be done at the state level. It will even out these vast differences, which create segregated communities as more affluent families flock to “good” school districts. We should note that this isn’t a panacea: Michigan has funded schools mostly at the state level since 1994 and its socioeconomic achievement gap persists.
- Concrete Police Reforms. The #8CantWait initiatives to reduce killings by police have proved popular but have also taken their share of heat for being too incrementalist. Meanwhile, game-changing efforts to scale back and even eliminate police departments have begun. At the federal level, it’s past time to ban chokeholds and reform qualified immunity for police officers that shields them from lawsuits. Sometimes it just comes down to simple respect: Watch 100 Black men debate this implicit bias on OZY’s town hall TV show, Take On America, in 2018.
- Make It Much Easier to Vote: Why isn’t Election Day a federal holiday? Or better yet, why don’t we vote on Sundays, like they do in many other countries? And while we’re at it, mail everyone an absentee ballot (like Colorado and Washington state do) and allow in-person early voting to proliferate — particularly during a pandemic.
- An Internet Bill of Rights, Like Estonia. Internet access affects everything from educational attainment to health care access and electoral participation. To address inequality, the U.S. could create an internet bill of rights, and, following the example of Estonia, institute Smart ID cards that allow citizens access to all their government programs, from health care and tax software to e-signature technology and even online voting; universal free public Wi-Fi; and an e-justice system that makes reporting crime and showing up to court exponentially easier. Black Americans disproportionately suffer from a lack of consistent access to both the internet and their government ID and documents, making nearly every facet of engaging in public life more difficult.
- A Department of Decency? Sure, it may give off Big Brother vibes, and overzealous policing of free speech is a definite concern, but plenty of nations have more stringent anti-hate policies than the United States — a result of post–World War II sentiment that saw Western countries pass laws to protect against racial and religious hatred. Another option could even include invalidating elections where “racist voting” is found to occur, much as a jury verdict can be overturned when a juror “expresses overt bigotry,” as determined in the Supreme Court case Peña v. Rodriguez in 2016. Read more on OZY.
What Key Institutions Can Do
- Universities: Boldly integrate. Did you know the SAT was developed in large part by Princeton psychology professor Carl Brigham, a well-known eugenicist? A growing number of colleges — including all eight Ivy League schools — are waiving the test due to the global shutdown. Given that SAT scores tend to reflect privilege and income rather than college aptitude, they should follow the lead of schools like Bard College and George Washington University and ditch it altogether. And while most schools have an office focused on equity, diversity and inclusion, some are focusing on adding it to their curriculum — with Hamilton College and UCLA serving as valuable examples.
- Venture Capital: Set Up a $10 Billion Black Entrepreneurs Fund. In 2018, only 1 percent of venture capital dollars went to Black startup founders in the U.S. Additionally, the number of Black people with the power to make decisions dropped to 1 percent in 2018. Change is now afoot: SoftBank just created a $100 million opportunity fund to invest in Black startup founders and entrepreneurs of color. The social platform Valence is linking Black founders with VCs. And Black-owned venture capital firms like BLCK VC, Backstage Capital, MaC Venture Capital and Harlem Capital are rising. For example, Jewel Burks Solomon, head of startups at Google, co-founded Collab Capital to specifically invest in Black founders, with the target of building a $50 million pot. But we should be thinking even bigger: Let’s set a $10 billion goal for VCs to back Black founders. Read more on OZY.
- News: Develop Powerful Alternative Media Sources. Black news has often been subdued, watered down or ignored within the modern media-sphere. There are some promising efforts to change that, from Blavity News to the Black women-targeted For Harriet to the brand-new BlackNewsChannel. In addition, some larger media outlets have devoted sections of their work to highlighting Black voices and stories. NBCBLK, the Huffington Post and, of course, OZY have been a part of this initiative. But we’re still waiting for a Black-owned pillar of mass media that can stand alongside a CNN or a New York Times.
- Pop Culture: Shift the Power Dynamic. Black people have long been a part of music, theater and Hollywood as creatives and stars. But only with decision-making power can their stories be properly told. Take Ava DuVernay, the critically acclaimed director and producer who creates films and series that depict Black life, with all of the things that Americans place on them. Meanwhile, TV shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure, Kenya Barris’ Black-ish, Donald Glover’s Atlanta and Lena Waithe’s The Chi are changing the narrative around Black lives. That’s because they’re in charge of the show.
- Daniel Malloy