business news in context, analysis with attitude

A compendium of stories, with occasional and italicized commentary, that focus on the racial and social justice issues that are confronting businesses around the country…

•  CNN reports that Walmart no longer will display the state flag of Mississippi at its stores there "because of a debate over changing the design of the flag."

The current design includes the battle flag of the Confederate States of America.  Walmart actually banned the sale of the Confederate flag in its stores five years ago.

CNN writes that "the decision comes amid a renewed effort nationwide to remove memorials to the Confederacy as the nation grapples with the intertwined legacies of institutionalized racism and police brutality. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at races, and the US Navy and Marines have also moved to ban the Confederate flag from public display."

The story notes that "several public universities, including the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, previously stopped flying the controversial state flag. And last week, the city of Gulfport, Mississippi, said it would do the same in a resolution which acknowledged the flag is for many 'a painful reminder of past days of transgressions in this State and has also been used by some as an image of hatred, divisiveness, and violence'."

USA Today reports that "on Tuesday, the Mississippi Baptist Convention called for the state to change its flag, with its executive director calling it 'a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred'."

I know I'm just a Connecticut Yankee, so my ability to understand this issue is limited.  But I've never understood the allegiance that some folks - people who, I think, would consider themselves to be patriots in that "proud to be an American" sort of way - feel toward a flag that represents anti-USA behavior and the legalized enslavement of an entire race.  I'm not talking about erasing history, but does one ordinarily celebrate a subversive movement that was aimed at wrecking the country?

The good news is that more and more institutions are recognizing this problem, and are acting to deal with it. When Walmart - which can be fairly described as a pretty conservative company, I think - comes to the same conclusions, then this is no longer a fringe attitude.  It is mainstream … and reflective of the national reckoning we seem to be going through.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that Unilever "is facing fresh backlash against a skin-lightening cream that is one of its better-selling products, as scrutiny mounts for brands that some say feed into racist ideas and imagery.

"Fair & Lovely, Unilever’s largest personal-care brand in India, has long been a target for critics who say it promotes the suggestion that light skin is more attractive than dark. The company has for years defended the brand, which generates more than $560 million in annual sales, saying it is a safe alternative to dangerous bleaching products."

The new backlash is an outgrowth of heightened national awareness of race-related issues, which "has picked up pace with the Black Lives Matter protests that have been fueled by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month, among other events."

The Journal writes that "Johnson & Johnson recently said it would stop selling similar skin-lightening products under its Clean & Clear and Neutrogena brands. PepsiCo Inc. has said it is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand of syrups, pancake mixes and other products, while Mars Inc. is changing the name of its Uncle Ben’s rice."

This may be a big seller, but the current climate may make it impossible for Unilever to continue selling an item that is seen as suggesting that lighter skin is more attractive than dark skin.  The world is changing, and there is a lot of consciousness raising going on … positions that just a few months ago seemed safe now may be untenable.

•  The national focus on racial issues, the New York Times writes, has led to heightened sales for books about race and racism in America, and growing popularity for black-owned bookstores.

One such store, Semicolon Books in Chicago, saw sales go from 3,000 books a week to 50,000 books a week.

"All that demand, however, is becoming a challenge for some black-owned bookstores around the United States, as they attempt to manage the deluge of orders, a handful of titles that are out of stock, and occasionally, customers angered by the delays," the Times writes, adding, "The concentration of interest among just a few titles can create long wait times, with some books on back order for weeks — and while most customers are understanding, store owners say, there are those who demand refunds or cancel their orders."

However, the story notes, "This surge in demand could not come at a better time for bookstores, which saw business down a catastrophic 65 percent in April over the same period the year ago, according to figures from the Census Bureau."

•  The New York Times has a story about a debate taking place at Amazon, where some employees and contractors "are arguing that Amazon, one of the nation’s largest employers, needs to do much more to address racial inequality within its own walls. The calls for change — including diversifying its top ranks and addressing racism in its warehouses — have generated an unusual degree of turmoil inside the tech giant."

The Times writes that "Amazon stands out because it has a large percentage of black employees — more than a quarter of its 500,000-person domestic work force, most of them in hourly jobs at its sprawling logistics operations, where they earn far less than their corporate counterparts. That percentage is slightly higher than among Walmart’s employees in the United States, and far higher than at other big tech companies. At Facebook, for example, less than 4 percent of its work force is black."

And while founder-CEO Jeff Bezos has been outspoken about confronting systemic racism, some suggest that he needs to do more to deal with the issue internally.

You can read the story here.