In Tunisia, they were rebelling against a dictator in power for a generation. Is this the same thing?
PRESTON: No, no, no. I don’t think this is a rebellion against Trump. As an African American, I see this as a longstanding issue that’s spanned administrations. People are protesting against systemic issues that are deeply ingrained in the founding of our nation. We saw 400 years from when the first slave ships landed on our shores. People will make decisions in November based upon how things are reacted to by the administration, but I do think that what we’re seeing is more of a reaction to how things have gone in the country, and less a response to any particular person, unlike the Arab Spring.
GEORGE: I think Preston is absolutely right. This has been a long time coming and it’s been exacerbated by other factors. And in the absence of unified government leadership and unified appreciation of what the government offers, especially in a time of crisis, who has to step into the void? It’s businesses. Businesses are being forced to engage in these political and economic and social conversations that were once reserved primarily for government.
PRESTON: Yes, one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is how much people are surprised when they shouldn’t be surprised. If you go back to every decade of the 20th century, you find a period of racial unrest and race-related riots usually tied to cases of brutality—Martin Luther King’s assassination is one. Each decade there are examples of it. Yet we act as if it’s a surprise every time it happens. So there’s an element of strategic failure and intelligence failure. Companies have to ask themselves why this keeps happening.
We all have our own biases, our own mindsets. Our brains want to make the world neat and orderly. Usually there’s nothing wrong with that—it works. But sometimes because of those biases you can’t spot the differences in the pattern. It takes active intentional thinking to get yourself out of that.
That’s one of the messages I hope people learn from this: You’ve got to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to think outside of your circle and have a deep curiosity about what’s going on in communities that aren’t necessarily yours.
You have to have courage. Think about this past week. What companies could stand up and say without equivocation that they’ve been fully behind this effort when it wasn’t popular? Nike and Ben & Jerry’s are among the few. Not too many others. People are catching up to it. But there are very few who were ahead of the curve and courageous about things. Human beings are just constantly being surprised by things they shouldn’t be surprised by.
There are so many things that we have to learn from this moment, so the next time it’s not just the same, so we’re not sitting here again, 10 years from now and people are like, “Oh, how did that happen?”
Do you see signs it will be different this time?
PRESTON: Yes. This is a great example of how as a pessimistic analyst you still have to keep testing your assumptions, because you could talk yourself out of seeing actual change.
What’s different now is you’re seeing more of a multiracial coalition out in the streets and protesting. There’s this idea that it’s not just African Americans’ responsibility to march for these things. During the 1960s, there were people of many races who were brave and went down South on Freedom Rides and had their buses burned up and so forth. But never on a massive scale like this.
So, you always have to ask yourself, what’s different? What opportunities are presented? I’d say the biggest opportunity now is that we have a group of young people, a variety of backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, who get it, who are actually taking action together. If I’m a corporation, that should give me license and some more freedom to be more constructively open about these issues.