Rashad Robinson, The President Of Color Of Change, Is Holding Corporations Accountable And Building Black Political Powerby Christopher Gray January 8, 2021
Economic and social inequalities between white and Black people have gained global attention in a big way this year. Amid the publicized killings of Blacks such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent 11,000 demonstrations in the USA, and with corporate largess such as Walmart’s donation of $100 million to create a center for racial equity, it may look like America is taking strides to address the deep-seated inequality on which this country was built. While it may be true that we’ve made some headway, it’s no time to become complacent. A less frenzied topic that directly affects marginalized communities and has profound implications for American democracy is that of voter suppression.
Disenfranchising people of color has long been a political tactic used by people in power.
From poll taxes to literacy tests, from grandfather clauses to racially motivated gerrymandering, voter suppression is a recurring theme in U.S electoral history. Just a month shy of the upcoming election, the war on mail-in ballots is just the latest example of voter suppression that debases America’s democracy. In 2020, social pressure from the 76% of Americans who believe racism is a prominent issue has influenced many corporations’ public stance on the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the topic of voter suppression and the ways in which this not only results in a compromised democracy but halts the significant, structural changes that the public is asking for has been sorely overlooked. If we hold corporations accountable to speak out, stand up, and shift the future during these times, it is crucial that they look further into all systems of oppression that impact Black communities.
Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization with over seven million members, understands that racism can only be ended by tackling it in all areas, including saving the vote. Robinson has spent his career advocating and fighting for people in marginalized communities. He previously served as senior director of media programs for GLAAD where he focused on transforming the representation of LGBTQ people in the media, equity within the media industry, and shifting attitudes and behaviors toward the LGBTQ community in daily life. During Robinson’s time at GLAAD, he decried the lack of leadership striving to change distorted media representations of race. Robinson was drawn to Color of Change for their innovative, integrated approach to racial justice and has had a significant impact in improving the lives of Black people with the intention of saving our democracy.
Robinson has spearheaded campaigns in the recent months that have resulted in helping 8 million people demand justice for Black people killed by police, for Black people disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and for Black communities targeted by election misinformation on poorly managed social media accounts. One of his key accomplishments during his tenure has been holding corporations accountable for the failure to protect Black people. His findings about the correlation between corporations and voter suppression has been disconcerting. For example, he argues that benefits such tax breaks that corporations are able to leverage in largely conservative states are fueled by voter suppression.
“Companies in Georgia such as Delta, Coca-Cola and UPS, companies aim to lift up Georgia’s economy – but their own employees and customers from historically marginalized communities are being silenced and shut out of the political process,” Robinson explains.
“Corporations would like us to believe they’re guileless when it comes to voter suppression, innocent bystanders in their own communities,” Robinson said. “That’s simply not true. Corporate silence is complicity. These companies have the power and the resources to take a stand, and their consumers must hold them accountable to doing so. We have the power to pressure corporations, civic leaders and influencers to do the right thing and fight with us to protect our civil rights.”
Color of Change not only demands accountability, but also works to reshape the norms of society, and advocate for the systemic changes that will keep Black people safe. Robinson and the team at Color of Change are working effortlessly to save the vote by mobilizing members of the Black community to turn up at the polls and by stressing the importance of their vote for the integrity of our democracy.
Every day at Color Of Change
“Every day at Color Of Change — every year, every election, every campaign — we ask ourselves one question: How is what we’re doing going to build independent Black political power?” Robinson said. “Powerful enough, not just to protect ourselves, but to transform this country and protect our democracy. When Black people are powerful in this country, this country changes for the better.”
For Robinson, progress can only be made by showing up time and time again. His advice to young activists is that change does not happen overnight but that continuing to hold the line for justice is paramount. “We can never mistake presence for power,” Robinson said. “Retweets, front page stories, shoutouts from influencers are all great, but we need to shape the rules that try to make Black lives not matter. We need to continue to move the ball on what is acceptable and shift presence to power.”