US multinational companies often use philanthropy to cover up the misdeeds that made them rich. Since May they have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to African American organisations, including Black Lives Matter. This generosity to a movement fighting ‘systemic racism’ looks a lot like insurance; perhaps the directors of Amazon, Apple, Walmart, Nike, Adidas, Facebook and Twitter, who know the meaning of ‘systemic’ better than anyone, are worried that activists challenging structural inequality in the US will soon find other targets, closer to home, than police brutality.
If that happens, the protesters will not be satisfied for long with symbolic acts such as taking a knee before African Americans, removing statues, renaming streets or repenting of ‘white privilege’. Yet the heads of multinationals would like the popular movement, which has awakened US society since a white police officer was filmed with his knee on the neck of a black man choking to death, to be confined to this inoffensive repertory of symbolic gestures.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, which ruined many black families by issuing loans they would never be able to repay, was photographed taking a knee outside a giant vault at a branch of Chase.
Mitt Romney, who as Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election said 47% of the US population were parasites, was filmed mumbling ‘Black lives matter’ at an anti-racism protest.
The cosmetics company Estée Lauder has announced it will donate $10m to ‘support racial and social justice and to continue to support greater access to education’; it no doubt contributed to Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign for just those reasons.
Beyond remarking that these performances outmatch parody, we should note that the protests against systemic racism began just a few weeks after Bernie Sanders, the candidate most likely to genuinely challenge the system, lost the Democratic nomination to Joe Biden, who has contributed to making it tougher, especially for black people: in 1994 Biden oversaw a transformation of the legal system that led to the mass incarceration of African Americans. Twenty-six out of 38 black members of Congress voted for it: skin colour doesn’t guarantee people make the right choices, as Barack Obama proved time and again.
The net worth of most African American families is negligible and stagnating, at under $20,000 (1) They are forced to live in poor areas and send their children to schools which are mediocre because they are overdependent on property taxes for funding. So their children’s prospects are dimmed before their career starts. Here is the core of the system: ‘white privilege’ means the power of money. JPMorgan is, no doubt, aware of that.
Translated by Charles Goulden.
(1) See Dalton Conley, ‘More unequal than others in the US’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, September 2001.