Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are being emancipated, and now corporate America promises to tackle the crueler substructures of racism: impediments to opportunity that, perhaps as much as police brutality, explain why George Floyd went from a second-grader with dreams of becoming a Supreme Court justice to a dead man under a cop’s knee because of a fake $20 bill. The “racial equality and justice solutions” being explored by a new subcommittee of the Business Roundtable will take time and benchmarks.
But there is an essential transformation the C-suite could set in motion immediately: Defund the toxic political culture, or at least its most conspicuous instrument, that makes progress difficult if not impossible and turns second thoughts about a mammy-esque syrup bottle into “they murdered Mrs. Butterworth,” as a recent guest on Fox News fumed.
If the CEOs mean business, they will find an unlikely but useful (if somewhat squirrely) blueprint for change in “The Year of Birmingham,” the name the civil rights movement gave to 1963’s tectonic shift on civil rights, which has lately re-entered the news cycle. Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic demonstrations that spring set the standard for the George Floyd mass marches—and for the opposition response. The German shepherds that police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor used against King’s young foot soldiers made a recent comeback as “the most vicious dogs” tweet-sicced by Donald Trump.