Late last year, Dr. Peniel Joseph, who is a Professor and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas Austin, gave a talk to L.E.K.’s U.S. offices on the topic of anti-racism. The session is part of L.E.K.’s continued commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Joseph began with a history of slavery and racism in the United States, beginning with the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to American shores in 1619. For the next 250 years, slavery and racism were inextricably entwined with everything that becomes intrinsically American — from its economic power to its electoral system to the extreme inequities of income, health care, and education experienced by the Black population today. After the Civil War, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment granted birthright citizenship, and the ratification of the 15th Amendment ushered in voting rights for Black men. During this brief period, we saw Black officials elected at the federal and state level, the establishment of Black universities, and funding for schools and hospitals in Black communities. But much of this progress ended in violence and a series of actions and policies that jeopardized these new-won freedoms — from convict-leasing to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation, to the red-lining activities that we are still seeing today. It was not until the Brown desegregation decision in 1954 and the civil rights movement of the 1960s that there was a kind of second reconstruction.
What we are seeing now, according to Dr. Joseph —as people of all races come out to protest the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other deaths at the hands of police —could be a sort of third reconstruction. While the anti-racism movement has stirred up controversy —especially when the term “defunding the police” is used —what it is really about is investing in programs designed to eradicate poverty (e.g., mental health professionals, drug rehabilitation).
But the big question for those of us in business is, what can and should we be doing to become actively anti-racist rather than passively non-racist? Dr. Joseph believes change has already begun. Many corporations have made commitments to begin investing in Black colleges, banks, businesses and entrepreneurs. Above all, though, it’s about being and staying involved and being willing to engage in conversations that are sometimes uncomfortable.
At L.E.K. we encourage these conversations. In fact, it is only by having them that we come up with the kinds of ideas that help us bring meaningful change —both to our clients and to ourselves. To continue the conversation and become further involved, please do not hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.