Just over two weeks ago, George Floyd died because a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes, ignoring his pleas of “I can’t breathe” and well after (2 minutes and 53 seconds after) Mr. Floyd was nonresponsive. Since then, waves of protests—during a pandemic—have spread from Minneapolis across the United States. And the movement has gone global with protests in countries including the U.K., Mexico, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Syria, Brazil, New Zealand, and Poland. Wisconsinites are protesting, too, and not just in Milwaukee and Madison, but in at least 31 cities across the state.
The support, including financial, for organizations fighting racism and inequality is remarkable, from individuals and businesses, social media is teeming with #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOut. Small businesses, some closed or barely open because of COVID-19, are giving—from water, food, posters, and masks for protestors to a percentage of sales for a week or all profits for a day. The desire for change is palpable.
Large corporations are also tweeting and posting feel-good anti-racism pro Black Lives Matter rhetoric. CVS, Citi, Amazon, Disney, and Google, for example, all jumped on the bandwagon urging us to fight discrimination and injustice. Some put money behind it, Google promised $12 million, Amazon $10 million, and Disney $5 million for organizations supporting justice, education, and opportunity for Black Americans.
Support for protests and protestors is important. The movement is growing. Widespread support for this movement is long overdue. But is it enough? Charles Blow of The New York Times tweeted a reminder on June 8, “The Montgomery bus boycott lasted 382 days, through a long, hot Alabama summer, and DID NOT END until the Supreme Court declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.” Do we have the stamina for a year-long protest? Is there more we all, individuals, business owners, small and large, can and should do?
Absolutely. We should vote. Vote in the presidential election (November 3, 2020) to be sure. But also vote for judges (municipal, circuit, appellate, and supreme court), district attorneys, sheriffs, and school board members. Vote for candidates who support marginalized communities. Elections, all of them, have consequences.
Be honest. Acknowledge that a color-blind society is a myth. Have the hard conversations. Own what you’ve done to support equality and fight racism and where you fell short. Jonathan Jackson, CEO of Milwaukee Film, did just that. He apologized and admitted, “I have failed to do my part in dismantling the segregation and systemic racism that plague both our community and our organization. For that, I apologize today to my community, to my organization, and especially to my employees of color.” Mr. Jackson promised to work harder and “be uncomfortable.” That’s what it’s going to take. This cannot be “the social justice Coachella.” Allies of the movement must be willing to make “a forever commitment.” Committing to actual equality and following through will be hard. We will all be uncomfortable.
Call out hypocrisy. Lip service to equality and pro-Black causes without real action to back it up is just marketing. Google, Citi, and Amazon all donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of Congress that the NAACP rates an “F.” CVS, Google, Disney, and Amazon have no black people on their senior leadership teams (Citi has one). Amazon sold its facial recognition software, inaccurate and racist according to an ACLU experiment, to police departments. And it’s not just established companies that need changing. Former employees called out white female founders of Reformation, Ban.do, and Refinery29 for racist behavior. Accusations, including a lawsuit, against The National Organization for Women, accuse NOW’s president of “sidelining and disparaging women of color.”
Demand accountability from businesses and non-profits. Pull Up for Change asked beauty brands posting support for #BlackOutTuesday or #BlackLivesMatter to disclose how many people of color work at their organizations and how many are in leadership roles. And they did. Consumers need to weigh companies’ transparency and diversity in their purchasing decisions.
More than just the right thing, diversity has a real upside. Diverse companies are more profitable and diverse teams are smarter. Think about who you hire and promote. Be mindful about where you shop (think local, small, and diverse). Ask questions and be open to the answers, especially the ones that make you uncomfortable. Think about what you can do and make it happen. Vote. Ask. Act.
Stephanie L. Melnick
Attorney, Melnick & Melnick, S.C.
Stephanie has been practicing law in the Milwaukee area for over 20 years and currently owns Melnick & Melnick, S.C. – a law firm that caters to small and medium-sized businesses. Stephanie also started She Stands Tall to help female entrepreneurs and business owners network, learn, and grow.