Commentary: Business community must join the fight for equality

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021 at 09:51 am

Andrew Weiland
BizTimes Milwaukee editor Andrew Weiland

The looting and destruction that took place in cities across the country, including Milwaukee, over the weekend when peaceful protests escalated in many cases to violence is devastating for two main reasons.

First is the damage done to businesses in communities that are badly in need of jobs and investment. In Milwaukee, dozens of businesses were looted this weekend, despite a 9 p.m. curfew Saturday and Sunday nights and the presence of the National Guard to assist local police agencies.

Secondly, the looting is counterproductive and distracts from the real issue: the centuries-old problem with racism and lack of equality in America. The death of George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer, is only the latest example, but video of the incident (filmed by a bystander) was so appalling it led to nationwide outrage and protest.

If racism isn’t America’s biggest problem, I’d sure like to know what is.

It’s certainly Milwaukee’s biggest problem. The city has long had a reputation as one of the most segregated cities in America and one of the worst, if not the very worst, place in America for African Americans to live.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce demonstrated last year that it recognizes this fact. Its members, in a 2018 poll, identified racial disparities as the region’s biggest issue. So, last year the MMAC unveiled a new initiative with a goal of having 12,000 additional African American and Hispanic employees and 875 additional managers of color in the region by 2025.

As of mid-April, 97 southeastern Wisconsin companies have signed a pledge saying they are committed to the MMAC’s “Region of Choice” initiative, promising to work to help achieve its goals. Has your company signed the pledge?

Besides signing the MMAC’s pledge, what else can we do? We need to demand leaders, in the public and private sectors, commit and take actions to dismantle institutional racism.

Business leaders need to realize they can actually make a difference in the way they conduct business. Who you hire, who you promote and who you don’t. Who you do business with, and who you don’t. Where you do business. Where and in what you invest.

Race isn’t the reason to make these business decisions. But it’s important to be mindful of how your actions can have an impact on equality and when the time is right take action to help make a positive influence.

Keep your eyes, ears, mind and heart open about these issues, try to learn and understand. Engage in productive dialog when possible.

All of us, especially those who are not directly affected by racism, need to find a way to do our part to fight against inequality and injustice in our society.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.