The U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has long been tasked with managing the nation’s finances. Historically, it’s not a part of the executive branch that has weighed in on social issues such as racial equity.
Times are changing, however. The Treasury brought on its first counselor for racial equity last fall. And while critics of the current administration have faulted it for not moving fast enough on what they say are the most stubborn challenges confronting society, in fairness this White House is the first that is attempting to have honest discussions about systemic racism here in the U.S.
Comments this week from the current treasury secretary, as well as the CEO of BlackRock, indicate that staying the course isn’t an option to secure racial equity and the long-term economic security of everyone.
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We’ll start with National Action Network’s Annual King Day Breakfast this Monday, during which U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said: “[Martin Luther King, Jr.] knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger injustice he fought against. From Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to the present day, our economy has never worked fairly for Black Americans — or, really, for any American of color.”
It's not unusual for political leaders to tout their policies in different ways to appeal to various segments of the U.S. public. What stands out, however, is an admission that the system isn’t working — especially for someone heading a government agency that oversees a segment of the economy that has long held back people of color, whether it has turned a blind eye to redlining, dubious loan practices and other ways that prevented too many Americans from building wealth over the years.
“Today, redlining might be gone, but it hasn’t stopped Black folks from being held out of a frothy housing market that’s generating wealth for almost everyone else,” wrote Keith Reed for The Root. “So while Yellen didn’t say anything paradigm shifting, she did capture something that today’s sanitized — and often disingenuous — remembrances of King leave out: that the foundation of his nonviolent movement for Black freedom was more about demanding economic redress than it was appealing to white folks' good nature so that we could all just get along.”
Meanwhile, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink released his annual letter to CEOs, a ritual he has continued despite the fact he and his company have had to deal with accusations that they are driving what critics call “woke capitalism.”
This year, Fink reminded business executives that the pandemic has helped shaped a new reality between companies and workers, and not adjusting to this landscape can leave many firms behind. He added that despite corporate America’s silence on the country’s racial divide, many of its rank-and-file employees have not.
“In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity,” Fink wrote, “and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work.”
He also asked, “How are you ensuring that employees of all backgrounds feel safe enough to maximize their creativity, innovation, and productivity? How are you ensuring your board has the right oversight of these critical issues?”
True, the attention Fink’s annual letter receives is often matched with criticism, usually over how his company’s actions don’t necessarily align with his words; take his stance on fossil fuel divestment, for example. Credit him for shining light on America's current problems, however, and pushing business leaders to do their part.
As always, the follow-up is far more important than the actual words that Yellen and Fink spoke and wrote this week. Nevertheless, the conversations they have launched on matters such as racial equity would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.
Image credit: The U.S. Department of the Treasury via Facebook
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.