OurView: It’s time to speak up
Whenever there is injustice, business pays the price. Can you say his name? George Floyd.
The Confederate generals have taken multiple beatings in Virginia and elsewhere. Is it time for their statues to be gone? The business community needs to say “yes,” if for no other reason than because it’s good business.
Virginia Business would certainly not be the first to recognize the challenge economic developers face while giving out-of-state prospects a tour. Along Interstate 64 in Louisa County and eastern Henrico County, huge Confederate battle flags bookend Richmond. Smaller versions dot rural areas in Southern Virginia and Southwest Virginia, regions sorely in need of new jobs that would be provided by relocating companies. Can you imagine what site locators think when they see this landscape? Especially if they represent large multinational corporations, almost all of which are seeking to increase credibility on diversity and inclusion.
The Lost Cause is just that — a losing proposition. It is not what anyone would think of as good branding for Virginia.
Whenever there is social injustice, inequality and poverty, the business community pays a price. It’s not the burning and looting. In no way is business the real victim. The real violence, which has largely been peacefully protested against, is violence against Black Americans, either at the hands of police or self-appointed vigilantes like those belatedly arrested for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. Unfortunately, the Floyd and Arbery examples are anything but isolated incidents.
Although not the intended target, the cost of injustice hits the business community. Think about health care and unemployment. Who pays the cost of health care premiums? Businesses pay the cost, ratcheted up for indigent care and mental health care not covered by our government. Who pays unemployment insurance premiums? Businesses pay.
An unjust society is bad for business.
In recent weeks, it has been gratifying, if not somewhat surprising, to see the business community speak out in support of Black Lives Matter. Colleges and universities were among the first to speak out; they have long sought to serve diverse constituents. Chambers of commerce such as the Charlottesville Regional Chamber, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have also spoken out.
In June, Virginia-based Dominion Energy Inc. and Altria Group Inc. each announced $5 million donations to fund programs for social justice and combating racial inequality.
Sadly, on a de facto basis, there are many instances of the business community remaining largely segregated. Clearly, there has historically been a need for Black chambers of commerce, Black bar associations, as well as societies for Black CPAs and Black journalists. But, can we at least envision a time when there will be no need for business segregation?
Equal opportunity is often brought up as a cure. But how can we have equal opportunity without first addressing segregation of opportunity?
Equal opportunity can exist only when all people are treated equally; this means both equity and inclusion. In a 1967 interview on NBC television, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
This isn’t about something that happened 60 years ago, 150 years ago or 400 years ago. Jim Crow laws, redlining, unfair mortgage practices, the Civil Rights Movement, racial profiling and voting rights restrictions trace an arc of systemic racism that continues to this very day. It is very telling that even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has announced it is expanding the definition of racism to include systemic racism.
When it comes to Confederate statues, some say that you can’t change history. Others point out that statues erected well after the Civil War ended were exactly that — a long-lasting attempt to change history. Perhaps a better way to think about it now is as an opportunity to create history.
How we rethink racism today has the power to redefine the future of our democracy. Let’s not get that wrong. It’s just good business.