Frederick Douglass said, “The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion,” which rings true today. It’s hypocritical to collectively critique the nation’s predominantly peaceful protests if we don’t first condemn – and take bold actions to eliminate – the systemic racism and the centuries of oppression and violence towards Black people in America that have fed the anger and pain behind it.
George Floyd’s death lies among similar tragedies that have taken the lives of Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others – all grievous examples of the long degradation of Black lives in America. These events are borne out of a system of structural racism by people and institutions designed to oppress them.
The last few months alone prove how pervasive the problem is and what must change. COVID-19 is compounding the profound economic disparity and the mental and emotional trauma experienced by Black and Brown people across the US, including in our region. The design and implementation of the Paycheck Protection Program, the structure of our unemployment system, and the disproportionate number of Black and Brown people working in high-risk low-wage jobs (often frontline positions) offer dense and complex examples of the pervasiveness of institutional racism. There is no clear plan – let alone demonstrated unified intent – that equity is a government priority for economic recovery, or any indication that it is a critical tool for economic regeneration.
In the backdrop, along with the generations of economic injustices that COVID-19 brought to a fever pitch, are the environmental and climate injustices that Black and Brown communities continue to experience. These communities are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of waste disposal, pollution in their neighborhoods, and more hazards in their workplaces. We see this locally in sites like Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the 150-year-old crude oil refinery recently closed in South Philadelphia. When legislators drag their feet on climate action, or worse, roll back environmental regulations and defund enforcement, it sends yet another clear message to historically marginalized communities that they do not matter.
This sobering context keeps SBN’s mission to build a just, green, and thriving economy relevant. As we rebuild our local business community and our economy, we must remember equity, climate resilience, and a vibrant economy are deeply interdependent – progress in one pillar cannot be achieved or sustained without progress in the others. We recognize the tenacious and necessary anti-oppression work of so many organizations locally and across the globe. We see the efforts of our members. We acknowledge that it’s not enough for just a few to carry the responsibility of dismantling oppression and that our collective efforts have not been enough. We must all recognize our individual and collective power to be change agents and take action in all the possible ways.
To that end, SBN and all businesses are in positions of power and thus have the responsibility to use our strength as a force for good. The Triple Bottom Line is an ongoing practice that informs critical decisions and how we measure success, and is not anything that we can arrive at or achieve. Progress is made one business at a time, one network at a time, one policy at a time. As a continuation of our practice, SBN makes this promise, and asks you to join us in making this promise and to hold each other accountable for fulfilling it:
SBN will step up our ongoing work with our Board, staff, and membership on how to be anti-racist as well as advocate for systems change, asking ourselves and the local business community difficult and essential questions:
- How can we better educate ourselves and our stakeholders about structural racism?
- How can we better hold space to allow for conversations about structural racism in our organization?
- How can we become a safer and more welcoming community for Black and Brown business owners?
- What practices can we implement or improve to support our Black and Brown colleagues and other colleagues of color?
- How can we best support Black and Brown business leaders and other leaders of color in the communities and networks we are part of?
- How can we civically engage to hold best the public leaders accountable and tackle structural racism in our government systems?
Institutional and cultural racism is pervasive and challenging to see by those not oppressed by it. It’s our individual and collective responsibility to listen to those who are and bear witness to both their suffering and their hopes. To loosely quote Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s Attorney General leading the investigation into George Floyd’s death, we must “not only fix the broken windows and sweep up the glass, but fix the broken, shattered systems designed to leave so many people behind.”
Join us in this critical work.
*Thank you to Anthea Kelsick at B Lab for the questions.