For a group of elite black executives, police killings and protests have unleashed an outpouring of emotion and calls for action.
“My blood boiled a long time ago,” said Robert Reffkin, the co-founder of the real estate brokerage Compass, “when I formed the impression that most companies don’t care.”Credit...George Etheredge for The New York Times
In the past week, it has seemed like every major company has publicly condemned racism. All-black squares cover corporate Instagram. Executives have made multimillion-dollar pledges to anti-discrimination efforts and programs to support black businesses.
Yet many of the same companies expressing solidarity have contributed to systemic inequality, targeted the black community with unhealthy products and services, and failed to hire, promote and fairly compensate black men and women.
“Corporate America has failed black America,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a member of the board of Pepsi, and who is black. “Even after a generation of Ivy League educations and extraordinary talented African-Americans going into corporate America, we seem to have hit a wall.”
With dozens of cities protesting the violent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, a national conversation about racism is underway. For black executives, who have spent their lives excelling at business while overcoming structural discrimination, the killings and ensuing protests have unleashed an outpouring of emotion. Many are speaking candidly about their private fears, as well as their disappointment with the corporate apparatus that made them stars.
Wes Moore, the chief executive of Robin Hood, a New York charity combating poverty, said he chooses his workout clothes to minimize the chances anyone will consider him, as a black man, dangerous. “I pick the outfit that I wear when I run strategically,” he said. “I wear shirts with my alma mater on it, Johns Hopkins, so people know I’m not a threat.” Mr. Arbery was https://www.nytimes.com/article/ahmaud-arbery-shooting-georgia.html">shot to death by apparent vigilantes while out for a jog; three white men have been charged.
Mr. Moore said he was fed up with being one of just a relatively small number of black executives in the top tier of American business. “The list starts getting very thin very quickly,” he said. “There aren’t enough good examples. We’ve been satisfied with exceptions and exceptionalism.”
“We’ve been satisfied by putting John Rogers on every board,” he added, referring to the https://www.arielinvestments.com/content/view/112/1062/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">black investor who has been a director at Exelon, McDonald’s, Nike and The New York Times Company. “But we haven’t been deliberate about building bench and pipeline.”