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Why ‘Not Being Racist’ is Not Enough

May 31, 2020

Levi Strauss & Co. has a long history of fighting for racial justice. The following essay by Charis Márquez, VP of Sales and Executive Sponsor of our Black Employee Resource Group, addresses the pain currently coursing through our community — and explains what we’re doing to address it.

I have struggled for weeks to write this, but I think it’s time.

This is such a stressful moment for everyone. But as everyone worries when life will get back to “normal,” I’m reminded of what normal means for people like me. For Black Americans.

The optimist in me really thought COVID-19 would show us how to take care of each other — how to come together, bridge our differences, think about people other than ourselves. In the beginning, I saw this. Unfortunately, it now appears that we as a country are over it.

People who look like me continue to suffer.  The recent protests are expressing feelings that we have pushed aside for decades, even centuries. We feel as if it is time for us to be seen and heard.

The disproportionate amount of deaths related to COVID-19 for Black and Brown communities, the continuation of police brutality and other violence against Black Americans simply for being Black are just too much. Every time another incident of racialized violence takes place, it breaks us.

Days have led to years, years to generations. That’s the part no one understands. For Black Americans, an attack on one of us feels like an attack on all of us. We are in mourning, and the rest of the world isn’t even willing to check in to see if we are okay. And we aren’t.

While these events make me sad and, frankly, just drained, they have been a continuous part of our history — and for us, it feels like no one is willing to talk about the underlying issues. If you are going to be enraged by the protests, please also be enraged by the conditions of severe inequality, of racial discrimination and violence, that led us here. One without the other perpetuates the racial inequality.

What really disturbs me these days are the incidents caused by white liberals (e.g. Amy Cooper, the white female in Central Park who called the police on an African-American man who asked her to leash her dog). The problem is, many people I’m with on a day-to-day basis only believe these incidents occur if they’re documented on video. I have been in many debates with my white liberal friends who “don’t see color” and say things like, “just get over it,” “that didn’t happen,” and “you are over-reacting.” They get it when someone dies, and they can see it on video, but they don’t believe it’s happening every day across America.

They don’t get it that Amy Cooper calling the cops on Christian Cooper, threatening violence against this nature-loving birdwatcher, breaks us down. These events tear at who we are, and we face a barrage every single day. They perpetuate systems that keep us as “less than” by killing us slowly, instead of from a gunshot.

White people have so much power and influence. If they could only use it to help disassemble the systems that broke us down to begin with, the world would be in a much better place.

Here are a few facts:

  1. The latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for whites, and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos.
  2. African-American men are more than twice as likely as their white peers to die from police use of force.
  3. Black women in leadership positions are more likely to be criticized or punished when making mistakes on the job.

Despite all this negativity, I do believe that people want change — regardless of their color. We all are part of the problem, and we each have different roles to play in the solution. If you want to be a part of the solution, just like I do, here are a few suggestions to start.

  1. Check out this list of steps we can all take to improve racial justice and equality in the Black community.
  2. When you hear of these incidents occurring, ask your friends of color how they’re doing? Just that question goes further than you know.
  3. Donate or volunteer for an organization led by people of color that is committed to advancing social change in Black and Brown communities.

What LS&Co. is doing:

  1. The events of the past week have shined a spotlight on the systemic racism and injustices directed at the Black community throughout our nation’s history. In response to the heightened moment of tension playing out in cities across the U.S., LS&Co. is making a $100,000 donation to our longstanding partner, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  In addition, the Levi Strauss Foundation is making a $100,000 grant to Live Free, an organization on the front lines of social-justice issues.
  2. The Levi Strauss Foundation has for years stood alongside marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Since 2010, the foundation has invested in next generation civil rights and community leaders through its Pioneers in in Justice Program. To date, the foundation has invested $7.3 million in this initiative over the past 10 years.
  3. We support leaders like Zach Norris (of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) and Pastor Mike McBride (of Live Free) who work on the frontlines of change to address issues, such as mass incarceration and urban gun violence, which disproportionately affect our communities.

The foundation’s voting rights funding supports leaders like Alicia Garza of Black Futures Lab, whose work builds Black communities into constituencies that influence the way power operates — locally, statewide and nationally.

Also, as part of the company’s $3 million COVID-19 response, the foundation funds Live Free’s Masks for the People Initiative, which secures PPE for essential workers, newly incarcerated individuals and vulnerable residents within communities of color.

The time for standing by and just “not being racist” is over. I’m asking for your help and participation. The future of not just the Black community, but our American community depends on it.

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