Politics

Juneteenth provides American corporations the chance to pledge to battle racism after George Floyd's dying

For the past 25 days, Americans have been demanding from the country's leaders that they plan to combat police brutality and systemic racism in protests that swept across the nation after George Floyd's murder.

On Friday, June 19, many of these guides have a great first opportunity to put into practice the rhetoric that has been spreading since Memorial Day, when Floyd died in the care of police officers in Minneapolis. Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan said the bank was "committed to fighting racism and discrimination". BlackRock's Larry Fink said the company would "not tolerate" racial equality within its walls.

Activists hope that this opportunity, albeit symbolically, will be part of the path to change.

"Symbols are cultural artifacts that drive and drive things forward. You need these symbols as things because movements are institutionalized in this way," said Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, Dean of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University.

June 19 is celebrated as June 19, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when the Union forces in Texas announced that slaves were free – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the declaration of emancipation. For America's blacks, this delay is a "symbol of freedom that has not yet been fully realized," notes Creative Collective from NYC, a creative agency that works with the Black Lives Matter movement.

For the country's leaders, this is a summary of a problem that Americans are increasingly asking them to help: the barriers that blacks have held back for a century and a half.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the middle black family owns just over 2% of the wealth of the middle white family.

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have widened this gap. According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, from February to April, 41% of small businesses owned blacks, but only 17% of white-closed businesses. Black people make up nearly 13% of the U.S. population, but accounted for 23% of all Covid-19 deaths on June 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In May, the white unemployment rate declined compared to the previous month, while black unemployment actually increased.

"The moment many of these companies have said they are with their black employees and they are horrified by the murder of George Floyd and so many other blacks, it is also a moment to recognize the racism that is going into the economy is branded this nation and the conditions under which the blacks had to live to build the country, "said Laura Morgan Roberts, professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and author of" Race, Work and Leadership: Positive Organizing into a global society. "

Altria, Nike and J.C. Penney is one of the employees who offer Juneteenth as a paid, company-wide vacation. Google urged its employees to cancel any unnecessary meetings scheduled for that day. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said the House would remove the portraits of four of her predecessors who were Confederates. Some states have considered a state holiday, while others, such as New York, are pressing to add it.

"I never thought I would see that," said Wooten. She thought that setting up Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday in 1983 was the only memory she would experience in her life, she said.

As a symbol, however, Juneteenth is not yet generally celebrated as a paid day off.

Comcast and Walmart are among those who have not fired their employees for vacation, although both have pledged resources to combat racial inequality.

Not all companies are able to easily grant a vacation. Smaller organizations or those with problems may not be able to take a break from work. For those in industries like food or manufacturing, a day off has bigger, not all, positive consequences for society.

And symbols can be lost quickly without care. Remembrance Day is often seen as a day for barbecues and beach visits as a moment to remember those who died while on duty.

Oreo owner Mondelez calls the paid day off when he offers employees a "day of thought" to address concerns that might otherwise be viewed as a three-day weekend, said Laurie Guzzinati, the company's corporate and government affairs manager. Mondelez offers internal and external resources so that employees can make the most of this time.

"What we heard from our colleagues is that they wanted to keep this day to make room for thought and learning," she said.

Facebook commemorates the holiday with an obligatory learning day and cancels all other company meetings, but does not give employees a day off. The social media giant is also concerned with the reality that after six years of diversity efforts, its workforce has increased from 3% black to 3.8%.

The company announced on Thursday that it will provide $ 200 million to black-owned businesses and organizations. In addition, it has committed to increasing the representation of colored people in the company's management positions by 30% over the next five years.

"Juneteenth is the first post-national outrage – we would definitely not see all of this attention [otherwise]," said Karen Boykin-Towns, senior counselor for communications company Sard Verbinnen and vice chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors.

"If this is a marker in six months, we should expect to hear concrete action from companies and governments that are really trying to tackle the systemic racism that plagues us."

In six months, there will be a variety of questions that investors, customers, and employees can ask, including these, Boykin-Towns said:

Has a company completed benchmarking where it deals with diversity? Is it responsible for improving these metrics? Does it have a chief diversity officer? If so, what resources does the company provide? Do you report to the board? Is a company considering referral programs that can promote "like hiring"? Does it diversify its suppliers?

Dardens Roberts asked further questions:

Has it looked at the wages and living conditions of those at the bottom of the business ladder, knowing that raising the minimum wage would benefit black Americans? Has it gained control over the many fundraisers that companies have given after Floyd's murder by the police?

If the answers are unsatisfactory, customers have power, Roberts said. She noted that the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks and helping Martin Luther King Jr. to profile himself as a national leader, was a consumer-oriented event.

"If it hadn't cost the bus company money, they wouldn't have thought of integrating the buses," she said.

Disclosure: Comcast is a parent company of CNBC.

CNBC's Melissa Repko and Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this story

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