Michael Gee: “I believe a strong reparations program would accelerate economic growth and kickstart a new era of public discussion around racial equality and anti-racist policies.”
Businessman Michael Gee says it is time American businesses engage in honest conversation about Reparations.
I’m an African-American baby boomer. Like many of my peers, I’ve watched the millions protesting in the U.S. and around the world for racial equality in recent weeks and felt gratified. Even though we’ve been having the same conversations about race for decades, it feels like something has shifted — the status quo feels untenable, and ideas that once seemed like thought experiments seem not only possible, but perhaps necessary corrections.
If it’s going to be different this time around, we need a bolder stroke, and that should include a nationwide conversation around reparations.
I’m not a political activist — I’m a businessman. I’ve benefited from the “affirmative action” policies of the 1970s in my long corporate career.
And over the years, I’ve watched commitments to advancing racial equity come and go. After all that, we’re left with a lopsided world where white people have some 10-20 times the net worth of Black people and we are severely underrepresented in white collar jobs in general. And the list goes on: There aren’t enough Black owned businesses, Black CEOs, or Black board directors.
The effects of these inequities can be felt throughout the whole of the U.S. economy, too: A McKinsey racial wealth gap analysis estimates a $1 trillion negative impact to GDP using econometrics modeling.
So, let’s keep the emotion out of it and review some facts. To start, our collective memory of African slavery in the U.S. has faded. Most American immigrants to this country arrived after the Civil War had ended. The original Civil War restitution promise of “40 acres and a mule” was never delivered to newly freed slaves. And the descendants of these African slaves lived through everything from Jim Crow laws to lynchings, housing segregation, police brutality, mass incarceration and much more. Even the important and hard-won gains from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act didn’t right these systemic wrongs.
For decades, fragmented public and private sector efforts have been unable to mobilize enough resources to truly move us closer to racial equality. It is encouraging to see new and necessary conversations emerge around criminal justice and police reform. But it can’t stop there — we need to more formally recognize racial disparities in educational opportunities, jobs, and home ownership.
Companies and Boards of Directors need a firm position on racial equity and the role of public policy as part of their corporate social responsibility agenda. In my view, that should include public support for reparations.
I believe a strong reparations program would accelerate economic growth and kickstart a new era of public discussion around racial equality and anti-racist policies. But to get there, we need a broader discourse on what reparations are and why they make sense.
Read the rest of this Harvard Business Review article here: https://hbr.org/2020/07/its-time-for-u-s-business-leaders-to-talk-about-reparations