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Joi Sears headshot

The Business Case for Black Lives

By Joi Sears

Americans live in a very different world now than we did a few short weeks ago. As a Trump presidency looms over our heads, many black and brown people are left wondering if our lives really do matter here.

So far, our country has not proven that they do. And with Trump taking office, it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon.

For eight years, President Barack Obama and his beautiful family served as shining examples of a "post-racial America" for the rest of the world. Because we can't be racist if we have a black president, right?

But as I watched states across America turn red on election night, it painted a very different picture of our country. It became one that officially and overwhelmingly proclaimed that some lives matter more than others. Men matter more than women. Rich matter more than poor. And white lives matter more than others.

I have to admit, the moment I heard Donald Trump was running for president of the United States of America, I checked out of the entire election. I just couldn't fathom the possibility that a society of living, feeling, breathing human beings could elect such an abominable, vile and morally bankrupt man into any leadership position, let alone one of the most important positions on planet Earth.

The sheer terror of this moment is overwhelming.

Minorities in this country have endured a massive amount of collective trauma throughout the course of this long, arduous and agonizing presidential campaign.

Between one candidate desperately trying to woo our votes by taking photos with Beyonce and dropping the ‘Nae Nae' on the "Ellen Show," and another candidate who made the most degrading pitch for black votes in the history of time, it's no surprise that many black people are left feeling discouraged and apathetic. We're already poor, jobless and miserable, according to Trump, so we might as well let him make America great again.

Many of us have faced threats to the very core of our identities and beliefs. America has essentially told us that it's not okay to be ourselves and exist in our own bodies. It's more than not okay. It is violently opposed.

This election confirmed exactly what we all hated to admit: Misogyny, bigotry and hatred trump black lives any day of the week.

So, what then is the business case for black lives?

I mean, we're literally being shot dead in the streets and our country barely bats an eyelid. Why should we be so surprised our president-elect was endorsed by a former grand wizard of the KKK?

My stomach turns itself into knots when I think about the larger implications this will have on our society and on our planet. If our own commander in chief has no respect for human lives, what kind of precedent does this set for our country and the rest of the world? And, what will it take for businesses to choose a side?

Black dollars matter

If our actual lives don't matter, our sheer buying power should mean something.

Black buying power is expected to reach $1.2 trillion this year and $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.  That is so much combined spending power that it would make Black America the 15th largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product, the size of Mexico based on World Bank data.

As the largest consumer group of color, black Americans dutifully contributed to our country's economy. We invested our hard-earned dollars into American businesses, and yet so few of these businesses would ever think to speak up and intervene on our behalf.

One business that’s not afraid to speak out on issues that matter is Ben & Jerry's, a shining beacon of light in the gray world of corporate social responsibility. Ben & Jerry's has passionately and consistently advocated for black lives. A statement on the company's website reads: “Black Lives Matter because they are children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. They matter because the injustices they face steal from all of us — white people and people of color alike. They steal our very humanity.”

Black minds matter

As a professor in one of our country’s most prestigious business schools, I have the honor and pleasure of educating the business leaders of tomorrow. I try to instill in them core values like empathy, collaboration and divergent thinking. These soft skills are often absent in today's business world.

When tasked with making the business case for diversity, I pulled out case after case of businesses that increased their profits by implementing strategic diversity initiatives. TriplePundit has covered a number of these programs over the years.

While it’s clear that having a comprehensive diversity initiative is the way forward for businesses and institutions in our country, it’s not enough to just have more black and brown faces in the room. You also have to make sure those voices are being heard, respected and valued.

Change happens when people are willing to listen and hear the struggles of their neighbor, put aside preconceived prejudices, and truly seek to understand one another and grow. Empathy, respect and open communication are key to tearing down the walls we put between ourselves and others.

We all have something different, unique and equally valuable to bring to the table. By embracing those who think differently and have different experiences than ourselves, we can slowly help each other move past this shameful chapter in our country's history.

Black lives matter

Ben & Jerry’s continued in its statement: “Systemic and institutionalized racism are the defining civil rights and social justice issues of our time. We’ve come to understand that to be silent about the violence and threats to the lives and well-being of black people is to be complicit in that violence and those threats.”

The first step in overcoming systemic racism and injustice is to simply understand and admit that there is a problem.” The second step “is making an effort to try to understand the perspective of others whose experiences are different from our own. To not just listen, but to truly understand those whose struggle for justice is real, and not yet complete.”

The future of our nation and our very way of life is dependent on the principle of all people being equal. Instead of pointing the finger at one another, now is the time to come together to better our society and institutions so we may finally fulfill the founding promise of this country: to be a country with dignity and justice for all.

In other words: All lives do matter. But all lives will not matter until black lives matter.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” You have to decide for yourself if you truly believe that all humans are born equal. And then, once equipped with that belief, decide what you will do about it.

This is a call to action

Businesses are what drive this country forward.

Black Lives Matter should not be taboo at the water cooler and in the boardroom. If you have black employees, if you acknowledge black people as human beings, if you are black, we have a tremendous opportunity here to push the world forward. It's our responsibility.

This is the time for business to take a stand. Teach your customers that tolerance is not enough. Enact fair and equitable hiring policies. Don’t create diversity initiatives just for profit’s sake, but because you know that having a diverse team is the only true key to innovation.

Set a zero-tolerance policy for racism and discrimination in the workplace. Create spaces for healing and conversation. Support community-based programs and initiatives that are doing real work on the ground.

Above all, be the change you want to see in the world around you.

We can no longer sit by idly waiting for someone or some policy to fix everything for us. It’s time to take America back from the government because clearly they don’t know what they’re doing.

Businesses have the power to change the narrative. We have to make a commitment to ourselves and one another to keep making steps in the right direction, despite who is in office.

Joi Sears headshot

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

Read more stories by Joi Sears