Zach talks the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the hypocrisy of DEI within the context of capitalism.
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(00:11): What’s up y’all, it’s Zach, from Living Corporate. And it is a Tuesday after Martin Luther King holiday. You know, it’s interesting, I’ve been on this earth now for 32 years. And every year that I’ve been alive, we have celebrated Dr. King’s legacy, his work, or we say that we’ve celebrated it. And it’s interesting, the older I get the more disillusioned I am with the way that we talk about Dr. King, and of course, like many black folks, I grew up thinking that everyone always loved Dr. Martin Luther King. And the reality is that he was the most hated man in America when he was murdered. And yet, today, we venerate him. We treat him like we always, and all of us, loved him.
(01:10): It’s also curious, as I look at Dr. King’s stance, his platform, which was largely an anti-capitalist stance. How does that really square with what America was back then, and what America continues to be today? It’s interesting seeing organizations that operate in means and mechanisms directly against wholly antithetical to his positions. Talk and speak as if they really are about any of the action that he was about, but still thinking about how tenable diversity, equity, and inclusion, if King was to call it that. How tenable is this work really in a capitalist context? I really don’t know.
(02:03): And I think I’ve asked this question here before if I haven’t then please, hear me, I’m asking it now. I know I’ve asked myself this question, but I believe I’ve asked you on previous podcasts. How tenable is justice and capitalism? I don’t know. Especially when you listen to King’s words about the exploitative nature of capitalism, and America’s imperialism, and its prioritization of military advancement and expansion of territories outside of these United States. When you listen to his language and his words around the lack of investment in community infrastructure. And again, this was in 1967, 1965, 1968. We are 50 plus years advanced from then, and we’re way worse now.
(03:06): And so, I laughed and I cry, but there’s something challenging about that. There’s something depressing about that. There’s something unsettling about that. And not to mention you’ve got the FBI every year, I don’t know why they do that. Every year the FBI tweets something about honoring King’s legacy as if they didn’t kill that man. If they didn’t write letters, urging him to commit suicide. They had him on a terrorist watch list. They treated him, they called him a communist. They said he was a domestic terrorist. What are we doing? You know what I mean? And it’s scary.
(03:44): It’s scary. As I kind of rant and ramble here, as I just shared with y’all my raw, unfiltered thoughts about King, and America, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in this space today. It really leads me to challenge and ask for all these companies posting content for clout on social media, about Dr. King, and about equity, and equality, and justice, and freedom, and doing what’s right, and being courageous. Do y’all really practice that? Because a lot of y’all still have clauses and things in your employment contracts that don’t even allow folks to sue y’all for racism if they quit. You have forced arbitration in your employment agreements. A lot of you aren’t even transparent about your diversity, equity, and inclusion data. You don’t pay your employees equitably. You don’t pay your employees who do diverse, equity, and inclusion work. You underpay your diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders.
(04:51): Some of you are actively harming black employees right now. There are black employees at your places of employment, at your jobs, at the places that you manage, that you lead, that don’t want to be there, because they don’t feel seen. They don’t feel like they belong. But you get on Twitter, you get on LinkedIn and you put some little graphic up of a man that you probably don’t like. And it’s just wild because, there’s a certain level of just arrogance, audacious arrogance that comes with that because it’s not like you have to admit all the evil that you’re doing, but you don’t have to front like you’re doing good. You know what I mean? You could just be quiet. You don’t have to say anything.
(05:32): I think that’s kind of going back to the FBI thing. We know that y’all are out here doing dirt. Y’all are putting Black Lives Matter protesters on a watch list today. The same things that y’all were doing to King back then, y’all are doing to protesters and activists today. So we’re not asking you to even confess all the dirty things you’re doing to black people today. We’re just saying you don’t have to say anything. And so, the question for me is, what parallels can we draw from America’s treatment of Dr. King and how we venerate him today? Just to how we treat black labor and the visage of black people in the workplace? I think about how, I’ve been at places where I was treated like a dog behind the scenes and then paraded out in front of clients like I was really appreciated and respected.
(06:27): Or where I would work, and my work would be hated on at the time. But then, I would leave a project and find out that some other people, who are white, took my work and then presented it and it was the hottest thing since slice bread. And so, there’s a pattern, I believe, in how America as a whole, venerates people after they’re dead, but you treat them like hell spawn when they’re alive. And there’s something to be said about just being honest, being consistent, having integrity and speaking truth to power. I continue this to challenge myself, what would Dr. King say? What would he say if he was to look at this landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
(07:22): There’s a lot of nuanced positions even in this space. You have folks out there who are, of course just like grifters. They’re claiming to be anti-racist, they’re claiming to be all the things, they have all the buzz words, but they’re not doing any actual work. They’re people who are really, really, really focused on just kind of maintaining the status quo. So they’re going to talk about diversity of thought, they’re going to center and prioritize whiteness in everything that they do, but they’re gonna use a little bit of the language. And then you have folks who, they also don’t solve thing. They’re just like focused on being against everything. So they get on LinkedIn, very loudly. They get on Twitter, very loudly. They get on different social media platforms, very loudly. And they just name call and finger point. But if you ask them about structural strategies to actually change workplace dynamics or just operational approaches to solve anything, programmatic solutions even. Like advice, leadership, guidance, executive coaching, they don’t have that. But what they do have are very provocative table shaking statements that will get a lot of likes, and generate a lot of viral activity on the gram.
(08:43): And there’s a space for that. But so much of this y’all just feels like just theater, again. And I know, we talk about this. It seems like it’s been like an annual thing. Past three years. The murder of George Floyd, the murder of several other unarmed black and brown folks, particularly black trans women.This is not my first time coming on Living Corporate and having this conversation, being reflective. So just think about 2022, it’s a scary time. You have politicians talking about how they honor Dr. King. Kyrsten Sinema, right? Yes. Okay. Kyrsten Sinema talking about how she honors Dr. King, but can’t even, don’t want to vote for voter rights. What is that? You know what I mean? But it’s not even right for me to zoom in on Joe Mansion and Kyrsten Sinema when, it’s a ton of other people up there in Congress who just don’t want us to have equal right and access to vote.
(09:34): We are talking about, we’re on the week of Martin Luther King holiday and what are we doing right now? We’re actively begging and trying to fight for what? Vote. The right to vote. Again. And so, when you start to back up, you think about it that black rights are cyclical. The journey, Dr. King said the [inaudible 00:09:59], what did he say? “It it’s a long arc, but it bends towards justice.” It bends when we bend it. Right. It doesn’t just bend. It isn’t an arc naturally. That’s not the way it works. And it’s scary because this is now our second time fighting for rights that we already have earned. There was an amendment in the 1800s that granted black folks, the right to vote. But then we had to fight for those same rights to be honored in the sixties.
(10:32): And, since the passage of the voting rights, voting laws in the sixties, white institutions, the government, politicians have been slowly chipping away and hollowing out those voting rights. To the point now where people are begging for us to have the right to vote again. I’m 32 years old, Dr. King was murdered in 1968. My mom was alive. So my mom is going through, she was born without all of her civil rights. And now she’s lived long enough to start to see her civil rights being threatened, to be taken away. And that’s crazy. That is crazy. And that’s where we’re at.
(11:21): I think about this season, where Living Corporate is going, so I want to shout out Jud Lago. I’m saying your last name wrong, please forgive me. He had this super fire thread. I’m going to put it in the show notes. There’s these corporations out there that, this week, posted stuff about honoring Martin Luther King, but they actually donated to Republican senators in the last year. And that’s supporting a caucus. That’s filibustering [inaudible 00:11:52] rights. Anna Chair, who was Rick Scott, who voted to overturn the last election. Okay. So I’m going to read these companies. And I’m not going to just read them, I’m going to read the amount they donated, and the company. Here we go:
(12:07): Google $15,000; American Airlines $15,000; Amgen $15,000; Anthem Inc. $15,000; AT&T $15,000; Boeing $105,000. One of the top donors, Cigna $15,000; Comcast $15,000; CSX $15,000. And this is actually pulled from popular info. CBS $15,000; DaVita $15,000; Entergy $5,000; Ford, $15,000; Holland Night, $15,000; Home Depot $15,000; Honeywell $15,000; Humana $15,000; Johnson & Johnson $15,000; KL Gates $10,000; Lydios Inc. $15,000. Merk $15,000; Oxi $15,000; Oracle $5,000; Pfizer (hmm) $15,000; Pacific Gas and Electric $15,000; P & C Bank, $55,000; PWC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) $15,000. And the company is also a major donor to the Republicans in Congress that voted to overturn the presidential election.
(13:45): Curious, when you think about the fact that PWC they considered themselves some type of paragon of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Their CEO was constantly out there in the world as if they are like some of the top corporate activists just out there making moves. The CEO apparently is like the greatest thing of all time. But they over here donating not only to just the NRIC, but also just, they’re huge donors to Republicans in Congress. So that’s interesting.
(14:14): Here we go. Publix $15,000; Smithfields Foods $5,000; Southern Company $15,000; Stanley Black & Decker $10,000; Travelers $15,000; Union Pacific $15,000; Valero Energy $45,000; Verizon $15,000; Walmart $30,000; Wells Fargo $15,000. And that’s a rap for now. Shout out to Jud who shared the thread, but also for sure, shout out to popular.info, a newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism. All right.
(14:54): So what I want y’all to understand is that this content, why I’ll be calling this stuff theater, how is it that the same organization, the same company can say they’re committed to fairness, and justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion but then, directly support leaders who don’t want black people to vote? The Republicans do not want black people to vote. y’all. When I had Dr. Jason Johnson on here, I literally said, I said, yo, I feel if black people, if Republicans really weren’t so crazy, that they weren’t so racist, a lot of black people would be Republicans. And he said, well, a lot of black people are not going to be Republicans because Republicans don’t want black people to vote.
(15:39): And that was sobering as hell. because I was like, dang, that’s true. They don’t want us to vote. This is not like an either or issue. This is not a both sides issue. This is not a… No, there’s a party that exists today that wants to actively disenfranchise your right to vote. They want to make it hard as hell. They want to discourage you from voting so bad, they do not want you to vote. So when you think about the fact that so many of these companies, they have these shiny positions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This thread, I’m going to link the thread in the show notes too. Yo, the thread is crazy because he has the facts of their political contributions, starkly against these very flowery pictures, and posts, about Martin Luther King. Y’all, that is sobering. So much of this, organizations they treat us like pets. They treat black and brown people like pets, parade us around. We’re cute. We’re attractive. We’re fetishized even, but we’re not respected. We’re not seen as human beings. There’s a fine line. We are not seen as human beings. We’re seen as ornaments and toys.
(16:50): It’s important if you’re going to stand next to and say that you honor and respect the legacy of Dr. King, and not just Dr. Martin Luther King, but all black radicals, those focused on black liberation, focused on black empowerment, black upliftment that you have to be honorable and consistent in your actions. James Baldwin himself said it. I can’t hear what you say because I see what you do. And that’s where I’m at? So you want to know the energy that Living Corporate is on in 2022? This is the energy. This is the energy. We’re going to be accountable in our journalism. We are going to be honest. And if you come on our platform, we’re going to have the real conversations. This makes no damn sense.
(17:37): This makes no sense. I’ve got a daughter. I’m looking at her, I’m trying to figure out what kind of world she’s going to grow up in. It’s terrifying and it’s not okay. That being said, so I’m going t o wrap this up. I’m actually going to read a healthy bit of an incredible book that was shared to me by Brittany Janay Harris, which is called, Salvation, authored by Bell Hooks. Incredible book. I’m gonna read this because she talks about, first of all, Bell hooks was in love with love. Like she constantly wrote about it. And so to really be like a student of Bell Hooks means that you are a student of love. You’re a student of life in that regard. And so, I’m going to read this excerpt.
(18:26): “The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet of love, preaching to the souls of black folks, our non-white allies, and struggles everywhere. His collection of sermons, Strength to Love, was first published in 1963. Later, in 1967, in an address to a group of anti-war clergy, he stated. “When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force, which all of the great religions have seen as a supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door, which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu Muslim Christian Jewish Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of St. John. “Let us love one another, for love is God. And everyone that loveth is both of God and knoweth God.”
(19:28): Much of King’s focus on love as the fundamental principle that should guide the freedom struggle was directed towards upholding his belief in non-violence. While he admonished black people again and again, to recognize the importance of loving our enemies, of not hating white people. He did not give as much attention to the issue of self-love and communal love among black people. One of the most talked about sermons in the collection was titled, Loving Your Enemies. King used the sermon to explain and justify his urging black people to love our enemies.
(20:05): “While we abhor segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.” Yet, he also spoke directly to the white majority stating, “To our most bitter opponents we say, we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. We cannot, in all good conscience, obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil, as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us, and leave us half dead. And we shall still love you.”
(20:58): Nothing was said in this collection about loving blackness. King did not address the issue of how black people would love the enemy, if did not love themselves. This emphasis on black people loving our enemies was the aspect of King’s political agenda, most criticized by radicals approaching black liberation from a more militant standpoint. Again and again, Malcolm X warned against this message of non-violence. In 1964, his speech to Southern black youth he told them, “Don’t you run around here trying to make friends with somebody who’s depriving you of your rights. They’re not your friends. No, they’re your enemies. I’m not going to let somebody who hates me tell me to love them.”
(21:36): On those rare occasions where Malcolm X spoke about love, he addressed the need for black folks to change how we saw one another, calling attention to internalized racist thinking. Overall, though, he did not have much to say on the subject of love. Underlying his attacks and the critiques of other militant black leaders on King’s philosophy of non-violence was the assumption that love was for the weak and faint of heart. Real men attended to more important matters. Militant black power leaders who took upon the mantle of south black determination. Folks like Huey Newton, Elaine Brown, and Kwame Touré, [inaudible 00:22:11] Carmichael preferred discussions that centered on building a healthy self-esteem, rather than discussions of love. More and more, as black radicalism was divorced from its religious roots, becoming more secular, discussions of love were silenced.
(22:26): Increasingly as black liberation was made synonymous with the creation of strong black patriarchs, love could no longer have a central place in the movement. Real men were fighters, not lovers. Freedom, militant black leaders told the world was about the will to power and not to love. The more freedom became synonymous with gaining equal rights with the existing social structure, the less love was a part of the equation. Gaining access to material privilege increasingly became the emphasis of the black liberation struggle. Economic self-sufficiency was defined as the sole measure of freedom. In this way, black political leaders were more aggressive and militant who advocated violence, actually did not have as radical an agenda as the one King set forth in his writings.
(23:13): Their insistence on violent struggle was not to change the existing social order, but rather to gain power and privilege within the system. In several sermons in Strength to Love, King warned against the potential evils of capitalism. Calling attention to the danger of loving money, more than freedom. Unequivocally he stated, “I still contend that the love of money is the root of much evil, and may cause a man to become a gross materialist. Of course, king had no idea that black folks, one day will gain access to material wealth by exploiting blackness in similar ways, those of the dominant culture. Yet in speeches and sermons delivered shortly before he was assassinated. He vehemently opposed imperialism, materialism, capitalism, and called for a radical transformation of society.
(24:04): With prophetic insight, King realized that a love ethic was central to any meaningful challenge to domination. In his last words, he was concerned less with teaching black people to love our enemies than with the threat of moral corruption posed by our embracing of materialistic hedonism. Which he believed would create a spiritual crisis for the nation. His vision was president. Describing the current plight of black people in prophetic reflections, Cornell West states, “There is an increasing class division and indifferentiation creating on the one hand, a significant black middle class, highly anxiety-ridden, insecure, and willing to be co-opted and incorporated into powers that be concerned with racism to the degree that it poses constraints on social mobility. And on the other, a vast and growing black underclass that embodies a kind of walking nihilism to pervasive drug addiction, pervasive homicide, and an exponential rise of suicide. Now, because the industrialization, we also have a devastated black industrial working class. We are talking here about tremendous hopelessness.”
(25:15): West does not even mention the growing number of black elites, wealthy individuals who have unprecedented access to mass media. Who, as producers and shapers of culture promote values detrimental to the collective survival of black people. To protect their class interests these individuals often make it seem as though black capitalism is the same as black self-determination. To protect their self-interest these individuals often make it seem as though black capitalism is the same as black self-determination by embracing and projecting liberal individualism as the only way to success. They undermine a vision of collective wellbeing that necessarily requires sharing skills and resources.”
(26:00): So I read this excerpt because it just rocked me as I look at the entire landscape. And for all of those listening here today, I hope that you hear and understand that King’s legacy was not about shaming and rattling cages without any type of vision or structure. And his vision for a future redeemed was not individualistic. And he also abhored capitalism and materialism. This conflation of black capitalism or economic mobility with liberation is sick. It’s misleading, it’s destructive. I want everyone to really check out this book, Loving Yourself, appreciating yourself and understanding hat you cannot do this on your own. That you need a community. It’s critical for your survival. It’s critical for the survival of your soul, beyond just your survival on the day-to-day. A lot of thoughts. Expect us to come back with some interviews next week. Appreciate you for listening. It’s been Zach. Peace.