Diversity & Inclusion, ZCoBbers, ZingLife

Change Must Happen

A note from Zingerman’s Co-founder Paul Saginaw:

When Donald Trump stated, “We are at war with a pandemic,” he actually spoke truthfully and was only wrong about one part. The war is not against a rogue virus, but it is a war against racism and white supremacy that have replaced the lynching of black men with choke holds, gunshots and knees held on their necks.

The key to understanding how we got here is knowing that policing in America is rooted in the economic machinery of slavery, evolving from the “slave patrols” and Night Watches” that operated specifically to reclaim the property of white slave masters. The unquestioned lynching of black bodies was the lawless terrorism designed to preserve economic oppression after slavery’s abolition. Today terrorism takes place across our nation when black and brown people are singled out, arrested, and killed by police officers with immunity resembling that of a lynching mob or Klansmen. 

I would warn about judging too quickly the violence and destruction of property. Although it cannot be condoned in isolation, let us examine the roots of it and how long they have been in existence. They are inequities and inhumane treatment from the moment this nation was born, written into our Constitution. James Baldwin wrote about them and Martin Luther King preached about them. Along with the rest of the world, America must now confront every unjust act and every death because they are recorded and shared instantaneously.  

To keep society civil, we agree to live within a social contract that preserves order according to agreed upon rules that are supposed to apply to all parties. Is the rioting a breach of that contract? Let’s consider if society has  kept its promise to those who are protesting. Has the social contract served them equally? Where is the strength of a contract when those with the responsibility for it and the power over it, operate outside of its rules?

Since early March as a nation, we have experienced more economic and social hardship than anything since the Great Depression—hunger, housing insecurity, unemployment, illness, death, and tremendous anxiety and uncertainty about the future. The virus has acted as a laser sharp illuminator of harsh, pre-existing inequities between haves and have nots in the richest nation on the planet. And now the bright light encompasses the undeniable inequities of policing when wearing a hooded sweatshirt, jogging, or bird-watching in Central Park while black or brown appears as an invitation for police violence and death. The important wake up for those not comprehending this is that this reality is not new for Native people, African Americans, other people of color, immigrants, non-hetero and non-cisgendered folks, or religious and political minorities. 

Change must happen and it requires that the social contract serve everyone, not only those born white and with wealth. The disproportionate toll of illness and death in black communities is not the virus discriminating. It is systemic racism that creates permanent poverty, poor health care, poor education, and limited access to resources—every part of the machine that maintains supremacy for those holding onto wealth and power.

Though I am neither an economist or historian, we have an opportunity with our business model that makes me hopeful we can move in the direction of that change. We can become a community of businesses that shares access to wealth and power. We can have managers and partners whose diverse identities enrich their leadership. This is part of our vision. These are ideals put into writing. We are at the very beginning of this work, taking baby steps to interrupt institutional racism, white privilege and white supremacy within our organization, in all our businesses. It is arduous work needing unrelenting attention. We will work to undo old beliefs and practices and replace them with decolonialized beliefs and practices. 

The harsh realities of this pandemic and these riots remind us with the urgency to seize this opportunity and double down on all our efforts to transform our organization into the one we desire, that reflects the equitable and just world we long for. 

A business that maintains neutrality when oppression is shown as robbing people of dignity, opportunity and life, is colluding with the oppressor and allowing oppressive thinking and practices to persist. The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses will not collude. We will engage with one another. We will support one another. We will uplift one another and hold each other accountable. That is how we will transform the 20 feet in front of us starting now.