Looking back on 2020 - a necessary reflection due to the gravity of the socioeconomic, political and cultural upheaval that defined its 365 days. It is so tempting to lean in to the narrative that now that Trump will be exiting the White House in just a few days and that there is an end to the pandemic in sight that things can return to "normal". That is comfortable, and that is white privilege. The horror of this narrative has two parts: one, it lays bare the extent of our privilege and it is unending, and two: it is very likely true: that things will return to normal and that what is normal to many of us white people is, in fact, an extremely violent, dehumanizing, and morally and ethically bankrupt system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. Even as we look forward to the inauguration this week, we must not and cannot forget that the fight is long from over.
It is my sincere belief that that people (including those of us who own and operate for-profit companies) must begin to be more honest and transparent about their values. If they do not, our society will continue on its path of a steep and apparently never-ending moral decline, driven by politics and discourse which are motivated purely by profit and fueled by purposeful misinformation, ignorance, racism, and xenophobia. This business and I are tiny little plankton in a sea of huge fish - meaning I am not naive enough to belief that what I am saying here will influence giant corporations or even other tiny companies to change their ways. Yet, I do believe there is a lot to say for personal integrity and the power of using one's voice in maintaining said integrity. We’ve got to start somewhere. There is no space for the narrative of “I don’t involve myself in politics” or “Keep business and politics separate”, especially because all it does is reveal privilege without conviction, and also because the word politics has become falsely conflated with morality. The saying goes something like, those who stand for nothing, fall for anything - and just how glaringly obvious has that become over the past year?
The idea that business and values should be, or even can be, separated is flawed from conception. It is a fallacy that ignores the fact that human beings create and work for, and either benefit from or are caused harm by businesses. Are used and/or abused, or on the other hand, are empowered and valued. These outcomes are not caused by any supernatural being or artificial intelligence, but by people. Human beings. And people have value systems that are deeply ingrained within them. And they are passionate about them. Their morality and political thought processes cannot be compartmentalized simply because they are working. Any examination of American corporate history reveals this and more.
The idea that belief systems should be removed from business decisions is the kind of thought process that renders businesses amoral, unconcerned with equity, progress, and the health of our planet, and thus, dangerous. In fact, in America, businesses ARE people (according to the Supreme Court) and are allowed their very own belief systems. It is called corporate personhood. It allows corporations to do things like spend money on political candidates and elections and welcome your employer not to cover employee birth control on health plans. Neat. Large corporations pour billions of dollars into lobbying and political action annually, which among other outcomes, leads to the American tax dollar (your dollar) subsidizing these corporations to the tune of even more billions of dollars. For instance, in 2019, Fortune 100 companies alone spent $325 million on lobbying efforts that returned $338 *billion* in federal contracts and grants (source: Forbes). Do not tell me it is bad business to talk about “politics”, even if you actually mean politics. Maybe not everyone is talking about it, but (almost all) of the big corporations are doing it.
Any discussion of 2020 and racism in America is not complete without acknowledgement of the interwoven and related nature of climate change and the global pandemic. This is not just because these issues also dominated our collective consciousness and experiences over the past year, but also because their effects are intricately tied to white supremacy and to racism.
It is well documented that climate change is a major threat to agriculture and food security, public health, infrastructure and transportation systems. The human beings most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of climate change are those with the least money, living in money-poor countries. They are disproportionately those living in the global south, where people rely on small-scale agriculture and are more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions without access to mitigating resources. Keep in mind that the 10 most food-insecure countries in the world collectively generate just .08% of total global CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, the United States alone generates 28% of the total global emissions, and yet we collectively suffer much less from climate change effects.
Of course, within the US there are divisions between white people and BIPOC. According to Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-founder of the Climate Justice Alliance, "Climate change is the result of a legacy of extraction, of colonialism, of slavery. A lot of times when people talk about environmental justice they go back to the 1970s or ‘60s. But I think about the slave quarters. I think about people who got the worst food, the worst health care, the worst treatment, and then when freed, were given lands that were eventually surrounded by things like petrochemical industries. The idea of killing black people or indigenous people, all of that has a long, long history that is centered on capitalism and the extraction of our land and our labor in this country" (source: Yale Environment 360).
Her words clearly illustrate the longstanding and deeply embedded connections between racism, capitalism and environmental degradation in this country. These connections began with slavery but very clearly continued throughout this country's history as evidenced by Jim Crow laws, targeted and bigoted incarceration and the prison-industrial complex and unchecked police violence. They are the same linkages consciously maintained today by big business and its leaders and by the political system to benefit our capitalist system and the financial elite.
This same horrifying history of systemic violence, marginalization and discrimination that defines American history is the same legacy that has led to three times the rate of COVID-19 infections and six times the rate of deaths in Black-majority counties compared to white counties (source: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health). BIPOC are disproportionately affected by poverty, mass incarceration, infant mortality, limited health care access, and health-related conditions including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, respiratory illness, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), putting them at greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Furthermore, negative police interactions have been associated with worse mental and physical health outcomes in Black communities and mistrust of government and healthcare systems, which builds upon a longstanding legacy punctuated by horrors like the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis. While Black people make up only 13% of the US population, over 30% have been formally diagnosed with COVID-19 infection.
At Thread Spun, we believe fully in the power of transparency and will continue to do our best to shed light on our beliefs and value systems and how they inform our business practices. I personally pledge to continue my anti-racism work, my education and pursuit of the truth, while at the same time practicing to unlearn my own racism. I pledge to do my very best to closely examine and face head on my complicity in systemic racism in America and to work to dismantle the systems from which I disproportionately benefit as a white person. I recognize that racism is not a state, but an act, that the effects of slavery continue, and that Black people and experiences deserve validation. I will use my privilege to enact change in ways determined by BIPOC.
I am not perfect, but human. Living the human experience is to be imperfect, and I embrace that. I will make mistakes, put my foot in my mouth, and be humbled. I promise not to let this stop me, and to continue in my efforts. I will be open to the critique and guidance of the BIPOC community whenever it is afforded to me. I will be active in my personal and professional life and willing to take the associated risk to atone for the actions of my ancestors and myself and to work toward a truly equitable society.
Next week I will blog further on this subject in a blog post called "Looking Forward to 2021: Where We Stand". I will discuss what we did in as a company in 2020 to combat racism and white supremacy, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. I will expound upon these issues as they relate to our mission and provide specific strategies and goals for how we plan to continue and expand upon this important work. I promise to be transparent, and plan to highlight areas that offer opportunity for growth for me personally and for this business. I am open to input from the BIPOC community and ready to engage with anyone willing while working to maintain my own boundaries and honor my own humanity.
Until then, thank you for being here, thank you for caring, thank you for also being willing to humble yourself in this important work, the most important work of all - that of being human, and respecting and honoring the humanity, worthiness and value of ALL of earths people.