Some Surprises Left (Gwen Moritz Editor’s Note)

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I’m pretty old and more cynical than I ever thought possible, but I was surprised by three things last week:

  • Walmart announced that it would no longer lock up hair and beauty products designed for people of color, as had been its practice in a few stores;
  • Nascar announced that Confederate flags would no longer be welcome at its racetracks; and
  • The president of the United States tweeted out a conspiracy theory about an elderly peace activist shoved to the ground by a Buffalo, New York, police officer, causing a head injury that kept him in the hospital for at least a week.

It’s been almost a year since I used this space to discuss both the moral case for diversity and the business case. (I quoted Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, who said, “The business case for diversity will do more than the moral case.”) The business case is this: In another generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there will be more nonwhite Americans than white Americans, and failing to embrace that fact is a great way to go out of business.

This is an Opinion

With disparate treatment of minorities, particularly African Americans, being the impetus for massive protests from coast to coast, many companies have issued statements affirming a commitment to fairness and inclusivity. Some seem cynical; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for instance, suddenly recognized his league’s “platform” and committed to “address these systemic issues,” but couldn’t bring himself to mention the treatment Colin Kaepernick received when he used that same platform to address the very same systemic issues.

Others, however, are accompanied by concrete action that will come at some cost. One is Walmart’s change in policy on personal care products for nonwhite customers, which surprised me mainly because I didn’t know it existed. In a few stores, it turns out, Walmart kept “multicultural” hair and beauty products locked up. I had obviously never been inconvenienced by this, but I also had never noticed it. (But one of my coworkers, a young woman of color, certainly had.)

As a PR move, the announcement seemed risky. Only about a dozen of Walmart’s thousands of stores required buyers of these products to find an associate to unlock the display case. Most Walmart customers, I thought, would have been unaware that the company had this humiliating policy in place anywhere, and it could be quietly changed.

But as I read further, I learned that there have actually been complaints about this for years and even a lawsuit. Last week’s announcement came only after a Denver TV news reporter asked Walmart for a comment for a story.

In other words, the cost of a practice that offended a growing segment of potential customers had become too high — just like Nascar’s acceptance of Confederate flags at its races and events.

Nascar has a demographics problem in the first place. Its fans tend to be older and whiter and more rural than the general population. Its audience having peaked in 2005, Nascar hasn’t even announced crowd estimates since 2013, and TV ratings just keep sinking.

On Monday, Bubba Wallace said in an interview that Nascar should ban Confederate flags from its events, and on Wednesday it was a fait accompli. (Another surprise: Google tells me this is not the first time Nascar and “fait accompli” have appeared in the same sentence.)

Who is Bubba Wallace? CNN described him as “the first full-time African American driver in the Cup Series since 1971,” which explains a whole lot. If Nascar wants a future in an ever-browner America, it needs more Bubba Wallaces and fans who look like him, and they are not going to feel welcome in a crowd sprinkled with the symbol of slavery preservation co-opted by modern white supremacists.

While corporations and sports organizations were trying to get on the right side of historic protests for social justice, President Trump found a way to surprise me once again. In a tweet on Tuesday, he regurgitated a bizarre report from One America Network suggesting — without a scrap of evidence — that Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old white man who was shoved to the ground by a Buffalo policeman, “could be an ANTIFA provocateur” who “appear[ed] to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment.”

Trump has a long history of baseless smears — Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Ted Cruz’s father’s association with Lee Harvey Oswald, the death of Joe Scarborough’s staff member, etc. — but slandering a private citizen seems even more deplorable, and panicky, than usual. The GOP probably needs to keep in mind that it has the same demographic problem as Nascar. Alienating old white men is not a smart move.