After the George Floyd protests, what next for racial justice in the US?

floyd

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Adwoa Bagalini, People Engagement, Diversity & Inclusion Lead, World Economic Forum


  • From bail funds to college fees, crowdfunding is helping raise millions to support Black Lives Matter – but is it enough?
  • Problems require structural reform: in 2016 the median white family had more than 10 times the wealth of a Black family in the same band.
  • Policing reforms have begun in some US cities, but many outstanding issues in education and housing remain.

Are pledges and protests enough?

Following the killing of George Floyd, some of the world’s most influential organizations have donated large sums to campaigns against racial injustice. Thousands have marched and some encouraging first steps have been announced – changes in public policy, for example, with cities from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to New York cutting police budgets.

A zero-tolerance approach to racial injustice has swept across US newsrooms and the corporate world at large, including a rash of progressive corporate policies on diversity and a revisiting of complacent advertising tropes.

It is now time to see if companies, governments and societies can follow this up with the structural reforms needed to open – and lock in – better opportunities for Black people everywhere.

It won’t be easy – but there are some good ideas on how to go about it.

1. Call out the problem

It all begins with this. As countless people have demonstrated in recent weeks, challenging racial injustice and racism starts with calling it out.

Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap – the Snapchat social network owner – has done this in a novel way, announcing to his employees that he is “heartbroken and enraged” by racism in America, and calling for a more progressive tax system which would see the corporations pay more.

Many other companies have pledged their support for Black Lives Matter and other campaigns against racial injustice; Nike’s social media videos urging “For Once, Just Don’t Do It” attracted millions of views and communicated a timely message of solidarity.

2. Give money

There has been pressure on brands everywhere for real-life, measurable support.

Nike has pledged $40 million over four years to support Black community initiatives, as well as stepping up measures to attract a more diverse workforce. And there have been large donations from Silicon Valley giants, including Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, YouTube and Facebook.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle racial injustice and inequality. In response, the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society has established a high-level community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. The community will develop a vision, strategies and tools to proactively embed equity into the post-pandemic recovery and shape long-term inclusive change in our economies and societies.

As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to ensure that equity, inclusion and justice define the “new normal” and tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It is increasingly clear that new workplace technologies and practices can be leveraged to significantly improve diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes.

The World Economic Forum has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, to outline the practical opportunities that this new technology represents for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, while describing the challenges that come with it.

The toolkit explores how technology can help reduce bias from recruitment processes, diversify talent pools and benchmark diversity and inclusion across organisations. The toolkit also cites research that suggests well-managed diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous ones over time, across profitability, innovation, decision-making and employee engagement.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit is available here.

Beyond the world of business, crowdfunding is helping people target their donations with precision. Bail funds, which post bail so people who have been arrested don’t have to wait in jail until they face trial, have received tens of millions of dollars. The Minnesota Freedom Fund received so much money it now directs donors to other charitable organizations. George Floyd’s family is being assisted directly – by members of the public and celebrities such as the rapper Kanye West, who has pledged to fund Floyd’s daughter through college.

However, donations can only go so far, and businesses are under pressure to turn goodwill into solutions.

Some of these can be relatively simple. Uber Eats lets customers identify and support Black-owned restaurants on its app. And Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey made Juneteenth a company holiday; the 19 June date commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

However, deeper reforms are also needed – particularly to workforce structure and pay.

 The median white family had more than 10 times the wealth of the median Black family in 2016.
The median white family had more than 10 times the wealth of the median Black family in 2016.
Image: McKinsey & Company

According to McKinsey, there is a deep and pronounced wealth gap between Black and white families, one that has been getting worse. Black people are more likely, at 56%, to be in “support roles” compared with average American workers (43%). This contributes to a lower average income, in general, for Black Americans.

There are a number of ways to resolve this. One possible solution was announced last year by transport company Uber. It has linked executive pay with progress towards the company’s 2022 diversity and inclusion goals. Wells Fargo has a similar incentive for increasing representation in the company ranks.

Another way forward is the route taken by PayPal – which adjusts the pay of employees throughout the year in an to attempt to reduce gaps that may be attributable to ethnicity and gender. Alternatively, companies can commit to paying a living wage, a move the Harvard Business Review says has helped some US states to grow their economies.

The structural economic challenges facing Black communities in America run deep.
The structural economic challenges facing Black communities in America run deep.
Image: Urban Insitute

4. Reform the police

Some changes have already occurred since the death of George Floyd – particularly in policing.

Minneapolis City Council has banned the police department from using chokeholds and neck restraints. Authorities in Louisville, Kentucky, have voted to ban no-knock warrants; police there shot and killed Breonna Taylor when they entered her home in March without her permission.

In New York City, meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a number of reforms, including changing a law that keeps police disciplinary records secret.

The structural economic challenges facing Black communities in America run deep.
The structural economic challenges facing Black communities in America run deep.
Image: NPR

5. Change politics

In much of America, local property taxes help fund state schools. This can put schoolchildren from poor neighbourhoods at a disadvantage because the local property taxes are lower – negatively affecting opportunities for the children who live there, who are often African American.

But such deep reforms can take time to make a difference. Take the example of “redlining” – the practice which has denied many African American communities across the US the chance to borrow money for a mortgage.

Although scrapped half a century ago, recent analysis shows that the consequences live on. Two-thirds of residents in these areas are more likely to be from low-income and minority ethnic backgrounds, typically Black and Latino.

6. Pay reparations

In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates called for African Americans to be repaid for their suffering, arguing that such reimbursements would create “a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal”. The idea originates from a promise made by the U.S. government to emancipated slaves after the Civil War, since broken, which would have seen 40 acres of land and a mule given to each former slave.

Calls for reparations have often been repeated in the intervening decades, but this new wave of unrest has lent new momentum, and Robert Johnson, founder of BET, has recently proposed US$14 trillion in compensation for slavery as a way of closing the wealth gap.

Listen to our latest podcast: Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, on why people of colour are more likely to suffer bad health outcomes after being infected by COVID-19.

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