It’s certainly not a bad thing that the world is slowly (very, very slowly) starting to condemn racism in all its forms and racist attitudes are no longer considered acceptable – even among conservatives. However, anti-racist rhetoric has simultaneously become a cheap trick for politicians and marketers. And we should all be able to see through it. Especially when it comes to anti-racism campaigns from big business.
If you look at some of the biggest triumphs in the fight against racism, such as the end of slavery and Apartheid, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, decolonization, or even the victories against fascism… 2020’s #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world might not be have the same as those moments in history… nobody was liberated and no new, meaningful legislation was passed in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake, but the fact of the matter is that it sent shockwaves throughout the world. For a time, campaigns in support of BLM were everywhere you looked. And this is certainly not a bad thing.
People standing in solidarity with a man, with a race, to say that we will no longer be tolerating police brutality. With a new generation (Millennials will be taking credit, thanks) taking the reins – a generation that was told we’re all free and equal – we are on a mission to realise the dreams of great leaders like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the likes.
These men played key roles in the fight for freedom for people of colour. Winning the right to vote, to equal access to education, housing and employment, and other fundamental rights. Those liberation movements should, by no means, be underestimated and the small subset of people who think that life was better for black people under the Apartheid regime than it is today have a lot of books to read. However, the millennial generation has an opportunity to fix some of the things that those leaders never did, such as overhauling a system of white supremacy right at its roots, and the economic liberation that people of colour so need.
And, with Donald Trump no longer in the White House and an incredibly diverse cabinet under Joe Biden – not to mention the first black and first female Vice President, Kamala Harris -you’d probably think the United States is taking steps in the right direction. And, as much as I’d like to share that belief, it’s rather misguided.
The politics of anti-racism
Let’s go back to the first Democratic Primary debate, where then-Senator Harris took a shot at Joe Biden’s political record:
She told a story about how she was part of the second class of students that were integrated into her formerly segregated school and how she managed to get her education as a result of school bussing programs, which Biden opposed earlier in his career. This is a program that allowed children who lived outside of their school districts to be transported to schools – and it is considered a means through which to promote racial diversity and socioeconomic empowerment in public schools. And, even after that, Harris herself was forced to respond to some questions on her own eight year record as California Attorney General by Biden himself as well as Hawaii House Representative, Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard pointed to Harris’ record as AG, questioning about how she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and how she blocked evidence that would free a man from death row until she was forced to release it, among several other charges.
And then there’s the fact that the broken criminal justice system that Harris became part of was due to the 1994 Crime Bill, which Biden was a signatory of, that expanded America’s War on Drugs and led to mass incarceration and an exponential rise in the United States’ prison population (the majority of whom are black people).
And, as Biden fills cabinet and other White House positions with women and people of colour, he has certainly done a great job in making people forget how both he and his Vice President were exposed for their support of various racist policies that maintain systems of white supremacy in America. And when it comes to the promises, made in the run-off elections for Georgia’s Senators , of $2000 Covid-19 relief checks, the Biden administration is already walking back on that. The Democratic Party controls the House, the Senate and the Executive now and there is no excuse for failing to provide that relief. The amount has already been scaled back to $1400, and it doesn’t seem that the chances of bills like these will be making it through legislative bodies and actually yield results for struggling Americans – again, many of whom have been downtrodden by racist institutions. And the Biden administration is not the worst example either.
Anti-racism in Big Business
Uber, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world, put up a billboard saying, “if you tolerate racism, delete Uber“. Which is ironic, because using Uber is tantamount to tolerating racism. Uber’s business model exploits immigrants to the point where 71% of drivers work 30 hours a week, and more than half work over 40 hours. Despite this, as much as 20% may earn zero dollars after expenses, and 15% are forced to rely on public assistance to get by. A UC Santa Cruz study found that, in their home town of San Francisco, 78% of app-based drivers are people of color, and 56% are immigrants.
So while Uber may look like a diverse company, they are exploiting the labour of people who are downtrodden, telling drivers that they could make up to $100,000 a year if they drove full-time. As the industry became more competitive, with apps like Lyft arriving on the scene, Uber began charging drivers 20% off each ride. And they ran a campaign to recruit low-income immigrants to join their fleet, offering drivers a car lease if they have a clean record and no car. You just had to commit to 150-200 rides per week. And, if you can’t afford it any longer… you still have to pay your lease. Uber has been preying off of systemic inequality and the most vulnerable of people and has been yielding massive profits as a consequence.
Amazon is another company that has been using ant-racism as a marketing ploy. Jeff Bezos wrote a note to his employees saying that he’s been “reflecting” on systemic racism in June last year. Amazon’s black employees, however, say that there is a “systemic pattern of racial bias” that permeates throughout the company.
“The ‘in’ thing right now is Black Lives Matter and equal justice,” Johnnie Corina III, who filed a discrimination complaint accusing Amazon of fostering a hostile work environment for black warehouse employees, told New York Times.
“You can tell when something is genuine and something is not.”
What does a black shirt do for anybody in terms of social justice?” said Adrienne Williams, a black contract driver for Amazon in the Bay Area.
Not to mention, Bezos, who has a net worth of over $200 billion, paid $0 in tax for three years, thanks to Donald Trump’s tax cuts which reduced funding to important welfare programs that many black families rely on.
Finally, we can take a look at McDonald’s, who sent out the tweet above in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And, like other establishments, the big business anti-racism sentiment was used for some good PR. But customers called them out immediately for their hypocrisy, knowing that McDonald’s are vehemently against raising the minimum wage in America to $15 per hour, which would improve the lives of America’s working class, many of whom are McDonald’s employees.
And then there’s what happened in Brazil, where there was “worrying evidence” of discrimination and sexual harassment. And the lawsuit that followed, also claims the number of African Americans in the top ranks of McDonald’s operations fell to seven last year from 42 in 2014.
There is no doubt that ant-racism is a great cause to fight for and the fact that its so present in our conversations today shows that we have made progress against this immoral state of affairs. However, big business has commodified racism and politicians are sweeping it under the rug, as if people with different skin colours running the exact same system will be making any effective changes. Racism, to this day, is an extension of class warfare, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without strong support for the working class and the economic liberation of the black people who’ve been confined to this section of the population for centuries, racism can never go away. And big business is using anti-racism as a smokescreen for the real problems, such as low minimum wages or unfair employment contracts. Until billionaires and politicians actually put their money where their mouths are, the virtue signalling and anti-racism campaigns will mean nothing and racism may be here to stay.