February 2, 2022

How corporations will exploit Black History Month — and how you can resist it

For more than forty years, Corporate Accountability has focused our efforts on the role of transnational corporations perpetrating injustice, trampling human rights, and devastating our environment.

And we know, from decades of campaigning, how corporations, governments, and agents of oppression have continually profited from, tested on, consumed, exploited, harmed, disenfranchised, and forgotten Black people, Black communities, and Blackness.

The success and profit of transnational corporations cannot be separated from systemic, historic, and specifically anti-Black, racism. In fact, transnational corporations have long reaped their profits by exploiting workers, polluting Black communities, and targeting Black people, especially youth, as consumers of their deadly and harmful products. And their outsized influence has helped create the kinds of racist policies, institutions, and environments that have terrorized Black people for centuries.

For example, in the United States, Chevron continues to pollute in places like Richmond, California, where heart disease and cancer rates are far higher in neighborhoods that are in close proximity to its oil refineries than elsewhere. Richmond is a city whose population is overwhelmingly Black and brown. It is also where Chevron has fought organizing by the Richmond community that has challenged its abuses in the area.

Coca-Cola is another example of a corporation that will publicly celebrate Black History Month but gloss over the fact that they fund legislators, lobbyists, and trade groups behind the push to pass voter suppression laws around the United States. And of course, Big Tobacco’s long history of using marketing to target Black communities is well-documented.

So despite their attempts to “Blackwash” their reputations, these corporations have continued to exacerbate racial and economic injustices and perpetuate the racist systems they benefit from. And as we have witnessed in every decade since United States’ inception, Black people have been fighting for dignity, rights, a seat at the table, and their voices to be heard while facing down violence, aggression, exclusion, and exploitation along the way.

This Black History Month, I hope you’ll learn more about and honor the Black activists and community advocates who have been at the forefront of challenging corporate abuse in the United States. People like the late Damu Smith, who mobilized communities living along “Cancer Alley” against the petrochemical corporations that were poisoning them, or Carol McGruder and Dr. Phillip Gardiner, who have long challenged tobacco corporations and advocated for greater public health measures that would protect the Black community from becoming addicted to harmful tobacco products.

Every person should have the clean water, livable planet, and the basic human rights they deserve to survive and thrive. This is fundamentally what Corporate Accountability’s campaigns are about. But we understand that the systemic change we strive for cannot be realized without an end to the systemic racism that allows these injustices to continue.

We believe that we can, in fact, follow and support the liberatory politics of Black leadership today that can help dismantle all systems of oppression tomorrow. And we are committed to doing the work of true partnership: unlearning, learning, doing, collaborating, and reflecting on all that this commitment requires of us.

Thank you for joining us on this journey, and for your commitment to building a just, liberatory, and loving world.

Corporate Accountability
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