My Turn: Expanding our sense of urgency

For the Monitor
Published: 7/3/2020 6:40:26 AM
Modified: 7/3/2020 6:40:15 AM

The international outrage erupting over systemic police violence against Black people is long overdue. Why it took so long is a mystery. It’s been nearly six years since Eric Garner was similarly killed, crying out “I can’t breathe.” Between then and George Floyd’s recent death, how many other Black people needlessly perished at the hands of racially motivated police?

Native Americans must be wondering when their plight will be recognized. Our ancestors stole their land, and they continue to be treated with the same disdain as Black people. Segregated on reservations, most Native Americans are mired in poverty. How can we continue to ignore this country’s indigenous people as if they don’t exist?

But persistent racial prejudice is only part of what’s wrong.

Greta Thunberg must be wondering how to similarly fire us up over global warming. From melting glaciers, unprecedented weather events, and loss of species, our planet is in dire peril. How can we stand by, Greta asks incredulously, and let this happen? Why aren’t we equally furious about the wanton plundering of the Earth?

Slavery still exists in more than 100 countries. According to World Population Review, the worst offender is India, with 18 million in forced servitude. China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and North Korea follow on the list. What? How is this still going on?

Fourteen-year-old Romina Ashrafi’s father killed her in northern Iran in May and will likely not face any punishment, because the murder is considered an “honor killing.” Her crime was running away from home.

How can the world stand by while Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, burns up the Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the world, while claiming the coronavirus is a hoax?

How can we stand by as 1 million species disappear? Or anyone is denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition? How can we allow nearly
$1 trillion to be spent on weapons of warfare in this country in one year?

How is any of this possible? Why aren’t we rioting in the streets over these outrageous abuses as well?

The pandemic has highlighted how insecure life is for many. Hundreds of millions do not have enough clean water to drink, or sufficient food. For them, day-to-day survival is a constant struggle.

If everyone were assured of a good quality of life, the underlying cause of racial prejudice would disappear. No one would have a need to feel superior to anyone else. No one is born a racist, or a murderer, or filled with hate. These destructive human traits are the result of poverty and oppression.

To achieve income equality, our economic system needs serious reform. Amazon is a prime example of unfettered capitalism. Jeff Bezos is now worth some $120 billion. His potential to change the world for the better has yet to be realized. He treats the nearly 1 million people who work for Amazon as second-class citizens. And Amazon pays no federal taxes.

Compare Amazon to Dr. Bronner’s, a very different American success story. Founded in 1948 by a third-generation soap maker, their iconic labels are filled with universal messages of love and hope. “We are All-One or None” founder Emmanuel Bronner believed. Bronner’s is a certified B (Benefit) Corp, a for-profit company that has a positive effect on society and the environment.

One of their guiding principles is equitable compensation. Executives at the top are paid no more than five times what their fully vested, lowest-paid employee earns. Everyone makes a decent income while allowing the company to give back in the form of enhanced social and environmental activism. Their products are sold around the world. And they pay their fair share of taxes.

Systemic racism and poverty go hand-in-hand. We can start to remake our world for the better if we share its bounty equitably. Sufficient models exist, like B Corps, to show the way.

The pandemic illuminates how connected we are, and how fast change can happen. Within three months of the coronavirus emerging in China, most of the world was infected. The spontaneous outrage that George Floyd’s death ignited spread even faster. Within days the entire world erupted and demanded reform.

I hope the urgency we now feel over police violence and racism extends to other critically important societal changes. There is a lot of work to be done. And we now know how powerful our voice can be when humanity stands up together and exerts its will.

(Sol Solomon lives in Sutton.)

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