“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What have we failed to hear, America? Why do we choose to look away? Senior corporate leaders, are you sitting there, silent, expressing confusion and sorrow even as you send checks to politicians who consistently aid the wealthy? Are you wringing your hands and examining bias, talking about inclusion but voting for division? The inconsistency is feeding the problem. No, not all leaders are inconsistent. There are many who lead with their values. Yet, we cannot possibly be here, watching a city burn (again) without the cover and support, or at least disinterest, of the wealthy and powerful.
America chokes on a deep-seated and deeply denied culture of human hierarchy; never has it been on greater display than in 2020. Today, we are rightly focused on the senseless murder of George Floyd. But, he is not alone. We have watched black citizens killed on camera, immigrants languish in cages with no cameras to record their demise, and Native Americans suffer the highest per capita COVID 19 infection rates. Blacks and Latino workers concentrated in front line service positions find themselves disproportionately suffering and dying from COVID-19, bearing the burden of our demands to “reopen America” so we can be served. We can’t wait to have our food produced, meat processed, meals made, cocktails served, hair cut, and nails manicured largely by those who are deemed dispensable. We may not say they are dispensable, yet we force them to make the Sophie’s choice between personal health and safety or putting food on their tables.
This nation was founded on a principle that the enslaved and indentured servants were less than fully human. We have invited people from Mexico and other Latin American countries to labor in our fields and factories and then send them back, time and again over our history, because they are seen only as instruments of labor, not men and women. We have made progress, but this foundation of 400 years of inequality continues to distort our thinking, our public policies and our politics.
In absence of a national conversation to focus on reform and remedy, we make our choices about those who lead our nation. That is the critical question we face. Can you support a leader whose most considered response to unarmed protesters in Minneapolis is reminiscent of the civil rights opponents of the 60’s? Today, calling protesters “thugs”, the Commander in Chief threatened to deploy the military against American citizens, admonishing “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Where was his voice when white protesters in Michigan, armed with automatic weapons, demanded with impunity that the governor open businesses?
Today, the President invited violence against American citizens who demand to he heard. I realize his intent is, in part, to mobilize the minority of Americans who will be emboldened by these words, to cloak the dissemblance of the Department of Justice, to distract us from his incompetent handling of the coronavirus that has led to this precipitous recession and unemployment rates unseen since the Great Depression. I am not endorsing looting, and I reject mob rule as a governance model. But, we can remain vigilant against violence while honoring the need to show that “Black Lives Matter.”
In November, as CEO of Chicago United, I called upon business leaders to stop supporting anyone who speaks in a manner that would be unacceptable in the halls of their organizations. The time has come for consistency between the desire for a diverse and inclusive workplace and personal actions. If a senior leader in your business authorized deadly force by any manager who witnessed damage to company property, what would you do? What should you do? You have the answer. Your employees are watching. Future investors are watching. Our communities of color are watching. The world is watching.