Do The Golden Arches Bend Toward Justice? : Code Switch Calls for racial justice are met with a lot of different proposals, but one of the loudest and most enduring is to invest in Black businesses. But can "buying Black" actually do anything to mitigate racism? To find out, we're taking a look at the surprising link between Black capitalism and McDonald's.

Do The Golden Arches Bend Toward Justice?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/986426485/987091780" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

Shereen?

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

Yes, Gene.

DEMBY: What do Meek Mill, Noam Chomsky and Billie Holiday all have in common?

MERAJI: They've all been critical of the police and the role the criminal justice system plays in American society.

DEMBY: That's right. They all have done that. That was not where I was going with that. But that's a very important and astute point.

MERAJI: Thank you.

DEMBY: But equally important - and maybe not coincidental - they were all born in the incomparable city of Philadelphia.

MERAJI: Philly, which also, not coincidentally, is where we are having our virtual live show on Thursday, April 15. That's this week, 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific.

DEMBY: Mm hmm. There will be music. Shereen will be dancing, probably.

MERAJI: Yes, I will be - body-rolling in my chair.

DEMBY: Yes, sir. We'll have poetry and listen to questions and great conversations with great people. You can bring your own alcohol, so please join us.

MERAJI: You can get your tickets at whyy.org/codeswitch. Time is running out, and you are not going to want to miss this. Again, that's whyy.org/codeswitch.

DEMBY: All right, y'all - on to the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: I'm Gene Demby. And this is CODE SWITCH...

MERAJI: ...From NPR.

DEMBY: Shereen, you remember these old commercials?

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Isn't that Calvin?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I haven't seen him for a while. Wonder where he's heading.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I heard he got a job. Wonder where he's working.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Calvin) Welcome to McDonald's. May I help you?

MERAJI: Oh, my God. That is Calvin.

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: And he is burned into my brain. Calvin is a part of my coming-of-age story.

DEMBY: OK, OK. Tell me what you remember about Calvin.

MERAJI: Well, Calvin was the main character in a bunch of McDonald's commercials in the early 90s. He was from a neighborhood that had a lot of very cool brownstones. So maybe he was living in Brooklyn or Harlem. And he got a job at McDonald's. And everyone in the neighborhood was weirdly obsessed with...

DEMBY: (Laughter).

MERAJI: ...How Calvin's job was going.

DEMBY: Yes. They were very pressed to know what was good with his job. Like, you live in Brooklyn in 1992, and that is the hottest T for some reason. I have no idea. But yes, the message in these commercials was, this young brother right here was doing something with himself. He got a good job - and a job with lots of room to grow.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

MERAJI: Yeah, he had this total Horatio Alger-ass character arc over a bunch of different commercials. And that McDonald's campaign lasted four years. He went from, you know, just a young dude on the block to a trusted employee at Mickey D's and eventually into the junior management program.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Meet the newest member of our management team - Calvin.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Congratulations. All right, man.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) All right, Calvin. All right, Calvin, man. Cool.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Management, dude.

DEMBY: Management, dude. And then some of his boys...

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: Some of his boys are roasting him - you know, 'cause he was flipping burgers. But by the end of those commercials, they wanted to get put on, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character) Hey - yo, yo, Calvin. What's the word on that job thing? Oh, man, you know, not for me - for a friend of mine.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Calvin) Word.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Word.

MERAJI: (Laughter). Calvin was a big part of the culture - not always a celebrated part of the culture...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...But definitely a big part of the culture. I mean, Too Short references Calvin in his '96 banger "Gettin' It."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GETTIN' IT")

TOO SHORT: (Rapping) So get yours, and buy my new album. Peep the game, and don't be like Calvin.

MERAJI: Dave Chappelle made fun of the Calvin commercials on his series of WacArnold's skits on "The Chappelle Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CHAPPELLE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character) Hey, yo, I heard Calvin got a job.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character) Man, I'm proud of him.

DAVE CHAPPELLE: (As Calvin) Afternoon, ladies.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As character) Ew. Nigga, you smell like french fries.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) WacArnold's.

DEMBY: But - all right, Shereen, jokes aside, jokes aside...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: ...I think Calvin might actually reveal something really important about the way, you know, we as individuals, the way corporations, even the U.S. government, have long sidestepped calls for racial justice. You know, 'cause people say we want the police to stop beating us, we want better housing, we want better schools. Instead...

MARCIA CHATELAIN: If someone opens a McDonald's franchise, will you stop asking for things?

MERAJI: Ooh, it's about to get serious.

DEMBY: Yes, it is - after the break.

MERAJI: Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Shereen.

MERAJI: Gene.

DEMBY: We switched it up on you (laughter). So Shereen, we're going to be talking about some of the particular ways that calls for equality and capitalism have been tied up in each other. And one of the best ways to understand how that happened is to tell the story of McDonald's.

CHATELAIN: When I was a teenager and had my own money from after-school jobs, I would go to a McDonald's in Chicago on Jackson and State Street after school.

MERAJI: Whose voice is that?

DEMBY: That is Marcia Chatelain. She's a historian at Georgetown and, relevant to our conversation, Shereen, she is the author of a book called "Franchise: The Golden Arches In Black America." And she said growing up, she spent a lot of time hanging out with her friends at that McDonald's.

CHATELAIN: And it was literally a Black history-themed McDonald's where they would have prints of Black art. They would have portraits of famous Black people. And for me, it's so strange. Like, McDonald's, I knew, wasn't a Black company, but McDonald's articulation in the places that I would be was always Black.

MERAJI: I wonder if we have to give props to Chicago Black ad exec Tom Burrell for that. Remember, Sonari Glinton profiled him for our show a few years back. Tom was very instrumental in marketing the McDonald's brand to Black American families.

DEMBY: Yes, he was. And that marketing to Black American families was very, very successful. Marcia kind of admitted that, as a kid, she saw that one McDonald's store on Jackson and State Street as, like, a hub of Black culture.

CHATELAIN: I'm so embarrassed to say - I shouldn't be embarrassed. This is life. I don't remember how many times I actually went to the DuSable Museum of Black History. But I can tell you the number of times I saw stuff about, like, the Tuskegee Airmen and the great HBCUs at some Black-owned McDonald's or some event that had been sponsored by Black franchisees.

DEMBY: Those Black franchisees saw their McDonald's stores as part of, like, this larger project of Black uplift. Marcia says, for McDonald's, in particular, it was a big pivot because for a long time, Mickey D's very much viewed itself as a brand for the white people flocking to shiny new suburbs in the post-war years.

CHATELAIN: It's about the highways. It's about bedroom communities. It's about a certain kind of middle class youth culture and middle class disposable income culture that was very much tied into how white families understood themselves after 1945.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Ronald McDonald. Now, where is that clown?

WILLARD SCOTT: (As Ronald McDonald) Here I am, kids. Hey, isn't watching TV fun, especially when you got delicious McDonald's hamburgers?

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Ronald, you can't be on TV...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: So McDonald's, one of the most ubiquitous, iconic American brands, a brand for all Americans, was really just for white people.

DEMBY: Sort of. I mean, it kind of depended. So Marcia says McDonald's was never, like, officially segregated. But - but this is important - McDonald's corporate let the franchisees who owned McDonald's stores conform to whatever the local racial norms were.

MERAJI: So if we went to a McDonald's someplace in Birmingham back in the day, let's say, they might not serve us if we walked in together, but a McDonald's somewhere farther north might.

DEMBY: Exactly.

MERAJI: Maybe.

DEMBY: Maybe, perhaps. But she said that all changed after 1968...

MERAJI: ...Which, of course, is the height of the civil rights movement, and it's the year that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tenn.

DEMBY: After King was killed, there were riots across the country. McDonald's was looking at what was happening, the demands that people were making for justice and equality in housing and employment and voting rights.

CHATELAIN: 1968 was a critical turning point for McDonald's because they were aware of two things. One, the changing racial demographics of some of the places in which their restaurants were located - neighborhoods that had been all-white, that became all-Black overnight - as well as the economic climate of 1968, where people were trying to respond to social unrest by opening up doors, opening up opportunities.

MERAJI: Marcia's talking about white flight there. So this is when McDonald's starts to market to Black consumers and open up restaurants in Black neighborhoods.

DEMBY: Yeah, and Marcia says this is when McDonald's started looking in earnest for its first Black franchise owners. The very first Black-owned McDonald's was in Chicago, not far from where Marcia's childhood Mickey D's would eventually be - the one, you know, she said, that doubled as her shrine to Black history.

MERAJI: So if I was going to hazard a guess here, a lot of those Black neighborhoods were probably food deserts. You know, even today, there's consistently not nearly as much access to groceries or affordable quality food options in Black neighborhoods as there are in white neighborhoods, but there's often a lot of fast food.

DEMBY: Not an accident, hashtag #housingsegregation and everything. Marcia said that, you know, Ray Kroc, who was the man that a lot of people know as the person who made McDonald's into this giant of fast food - he was not some racial liberal, you know, but he found out real quick that those new locations in Black neighborhoods were generating a lot of revenue.

MERAJI: I bet.

CHATELAIN: So you see this incredible shift in what McDonald's did in understanding that there was money to be made by going into Black communities.

MERAJI: That's a big deal, Gene. It's a moment when a lot of white companies realized that they were leaving millions and millions of Black dollars on the table. And that's also when they probably started to realize that, you know, this whole civil rights movement wasn't going to go away, and they would eventually have to acknowledge it in some way.

DEMBY: So they started making overtures. You know, some people might say surface-y, maybe cynical overtures to this new Black consumer base. You know, we care about you; we share your values. And back to those early Black franchisees, a lot of them did quite well for themselves. And it wasn't just McDonald's. Like, other fast food chain saw what was happening, and they wanted in, too. Famous Black folks looked at McDonald's making people rich and saw an opportunity. Muhammad Ali lent his name to a chain called ChampBurger. Mahalia Jackson, the gospel legend, licensed her name to a fried chicken chain.

CHATELAIN: Mahalia Jackson had a series of restaurants called Mahalia's Glori-fried Chicken.

MERAJI: Glori-fried chicken - I actually - I really like that.

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: Chicken for the body and the spirit.

DEMBY: (Laughter) I bet you it was probably good, too.

For so many of these folks, though, franchising was the key to something bigger.

CHATELAIN: Because they tried to imagine these as vehicles for, like, church groups or community foundations or public-private partnerships to get together to franchise these things, create job training programs for the young people and then reinvest the profits in the community.

DEMBY: Those early Black McDonald's franchises would do things like hold voter registration drives and job fairs in their stores. This new cohort of Black fast food entrepreneurs saw themselves as job creators...

MERAJI: Calvin callback.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I heard he got a job.

DEMBY: ...As examples of Black success and Black self-sufficiency and as actors in the broader civil rights movement.

MERAJI: So they believed they weren't just Black burger barons and businessmen, but also benefactors who framed their french fries and franchising as one facet in the fight for freedom.

DEMBY: That was pretty good, Shereen (laughter).

MERAJI: That's why they pay me the big bucks.

DEMBY: (Laughter). But all right. Here's the thing. Here's the thing. Marcia's book is about McDonald's, right? It's about fast food more broadly. But really, it's kind of a history of this other thing, this idea that Black businesses and Black entrepreneurship could - OK, if not liberate, then at least offset the racism and resource deprivation of Black communities. Like we said before, this is a story about capitalism, but specifically it's about Black capitalism.

CHATELAIN: Black capitalism is an ideology that suggests that in the absence of full Black citizenship rights, that the strategy that Black people should pursue is one of economic power and that that collective economic power will eventually lead to the possibility of full citizenship.

MERAJI: So if Black people have enough money, if they have enough wealth, they can demand better treatment in American society.

DEMBY: Right. Or they can make their own treatment, right? And it's an idea that's way, way older than Black McDonald's.

CHATELAIN: It has its roots in the 19th century, and it has inspired a number of activities on the part of Black leaders to encourage people to buy property, to encourage people to open their own businesses. And the strategy really is not only about power, but it's also the thought that you can deflect humiliation and you can protect yourself from the harm of engaging in market activities that make you susceptible to white racism and segregation.

MERAJI: Hmm, yeah. Basically, if you're rich enough, if your community is self-sufficient enough, racism will not touch you in the same way. And you know, this idea keeps coming up. I'm thinking of that Marcus Garvey episode we did not that long ago from Throughline about his Black Star Line and that kind of capitalism.

DEMBY: Yeah, that's a perfect example, right? And that's more of a nationalist-inclined sort of Black capitalism. But that's just one strand of it, right? Like, another more annoying strand - to me, anyway - doesn't even require that we go that far back, right? Like, the denizens of LLC Twitter right now getting on everybody's nerves talking about grindin' and generating passive income and how they built different and how they would go get lunch with Jay-Z. In personal economic freedom, that's Black capitalism, too.

MERAJI: So there are various styles and ways to push for entrepreneurship, property ownership, you know, making big money deals. And that can all be different facets of Black capitalism. As an aside, Gene, there is a very interesting conversation happening on social media right now - on Twitter - about BLM founder Patrisse Cullors and her newfound wealth.

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: And one of the questions being asked around this is, is Patrisse benefiting from a broken system that she says she wants to transform? So yeah, this is - I don't want to take up the whole episode with this, but I've been thinking a lot about it. And it's definitely something we should follow up on.

DEMBY: It is very complicated, yes, as you would say. But agreed. Anyway, here's Marcia again.

CHATELAIN: And I think that every generation has a version of Black capitalism that operates and that sets the tone for the conversation of what Black people should and shouldn't be doing. It's like, don't buy Jordans; invest in (laughter) - in Bitcoin.

DEMBY: And at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, you know, this moment when the civil rights movement is kind of fraying, Black capitalism is kind of ascendant because of Black folks to spend their money at Black-owned businesses and to save and invest their money with Black banks in order to help create Black wealth. You know, this is the era when Black Enterprise magazine was launched by Johnson Publications in Chicago. Chicago was, like, at the epicenter of a lot of this. Hmm, interesting.

MERAJI: Oh, yeah. Shout-out to Oprah.

DEMBY: (Laughter).

Even Black folks who had radically different ideas about, like, what might constitute Black liberation found themselves working alongside and sometimes even defending Black capitalists.

CHATELAIN: So Ralph Abernathy gave a speech after Martin Luther King's death about how we don't need Black capitalism, we need Black socialism. And then he goes to a Black-owned McDonald's and picks up a donation check for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. You know, in his mind, was he betraying his critique of capitalism? No. But, you know, aligning yourself with a Black franchise owner, I think, during that period of time - and I think people still think of it this way - well, yes, he's with McDonald's. But you know how they do us.

DEMBY: And there were sometimes, you know, these new Black fast food entrepreneurs found themselves in tension, you know, with some of the other players in the Black freedom movement. Right? Like, Marcia talks about this one really intense, sometimes violent confrontation between a Black franchisee in Portland, Ore., of all places, and the local Black Panthers, who wanted him to contribute to the free food program.

MERAJI: So McDonald's franchises or Burger King or whoever else became these flashpoints for big questions over how Black neighborhoods should look and even the kinds of obligations the people in those neighborhoods had to each other.

DEMBY: Yeah, that's right. And Shereen, one of Black capitalism's biggest proponents, one of its loudest cheerleaders in those heady post-Martin Luther King years was your boy, Richard M. Nixon.

CHATELAIN: Oh, my gosh. President Nixon love Black capitalism (laughter).

MERAJI: We've talked on the show about how Nixon's do-for-self and uplift-through-capitalism messaging really appealed to certain people of color. Latino Republicans were very down with his whole entrepreneurship messaging, actually.

DEMBY: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And at one point, Richard Nixon even gave a speech to a Black audience in which he called Black capitalism the real Black power. Here's Marcia again.

CHATELAIN: President Nixon was, like, the ultimate and the evil genius because he knew what he had to do to get on the other side so he could continue to get some Black faithfuls to the Republican Party, even though they had essentially, you know, all gone away after 1964. But there were still some loyals. But what he also had were Black celebrities. He had Wilt Chamberlain. He had James Brown. And so what Nixon understood was, you have to say something to pretend that you don't have an all-out hatred towards Black people and civil rights and progress, but you're not going to carry the banner of the civil rights struggle.

DEMBY: And Marcia said another practical policy reason Nixon caught into this idea that private Black business could provide Black neighborhoods with all these things that they were lacking is that loan guarantees and grants and tax incentives, things like that, they don't require billions of dollars of federal investment and direct intervention into these big, controversial issues that the riots and the unrest and the protests of the '60s had brought attention to.

CHATELAIN: You don't have to really touch the issue of school integration. You don't really have to touch the issue of fair housing because all of these ideas presuppose all-Black neighborhoods and all-Black communities. And as long as those continue, you can say Black-owned business and you can mean segregation under the terms that work for people who don't like the idea of integration.

MERAJI: That is a very eye-opening way of looking at all of this.

DEMBY: Mm hmm.

MERAJI: Also, how does owning a Mickey D's franchise or, dare I say, a McDowell's...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...Solve the problem of these communities' loss of a tax base after white flight, the fact that many of these neighborhoods were ravaged by civil unrest and riots and that so many of these places remained blighted until, like, now, many of them.

DEMBY: Yeah. Like, here in D.C., like, a lot of the major places destroyed by the riots in '68, the King riots, like, did not bounce back until the 21st century. And to that point, like, it made the entities that did invest in those blighted places, like fast food spots, outsized players in their local economies. And if you look at some of McDonald's print ads aimed at Black people from, like, the 1970s on, Shereen, you will start to see a theme.

MERAJI: Yeah, OK. I'm looking at one right now on my computer screen that reads, at which $8 billion corporation do Black executives help call the shots? And there's a Black hand in the ad with what looks like a gold McDonald's ring.

DEMBY: That McDonald's ring is wild. That's wild.

MERAJI: It really is McDrip Deluxe, McBling (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: There's also another print ad here that reads, who is the largest employer of Black youth in America? And then you see a picture of a Black teen putting on a McDonald's hat.

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: So McDonald's was really leaning into this idea that supporting McDonald's meant supporting Black economic empowerment.

DEMBY: Yeah. And that is how we eventually end up with...

MERAJI: Your boy.

DEMBY: Yes (laughter).

MERAJI: Calvin.

DEMBY: Calvin.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Calvin) Yep. I'm part of the management team now, Mama.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character) Oh, baby, I'm so proud of you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Calvin) It's only afternoons.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character) But still, it's a promotion.

MERAJI: You know, now that I think about it, one very telling thing about those Calvin ads, when you look back at them, is that there is not any food in those ads.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Yes.

MERAJI: There are no fries anywhere.

DEMBY: None.

MERAJI: There are no cheeseburgers (laughter). I guess that is because the food was really beside the point.

DEMBY: Yes, exactly (laughter). Calvin, you know, was supposed to represent a better way for Black youth - a way up, a way out.

MERAJI: Thanks to the largest employer of Black youth in America.

DEMBY: Mm hmm.

MERAJI: You know, I like to think that had the McDonald's cinematic universe continued to unfold...

DEMBY: So, like, the - "Calvin And The Winter Soldier."

MERAJI: ...That Calvin would have gone on to own his very own McDonald's, then several McDonald's. He would be offering scholarships to HBCU students.

DEMBY: Mm hmm - also probably, like, lamenting the evils of sagging pants, you know.

But interestingly enough, Marcia says a funny thing would have happened on the way to Calvin's blow-up - right? - because in real life, by the time Calvin came onto the scene in the 1990s, when we were kids, the odds of getting rich through owning McDonald's in a Black neighborhood were basically gone. Right? Like, it was a long shot because, for one, every hood in America was flooded with fast-food options by then.

MERAJI: Oh, yes.

DEMBY: So there was, you know, too much competition. The margins were already thin to begin with. And at that point, you needed so much more of your own startup capital to get into the game to buy a franchise.

MERAJI: Right. Startup capital that Black people don't have because, you know, this thing called the racial wealth gap...

DEMBY: Mm hmm, mm hmm - right.

MERAJI: ...The fact that Black people have a much harder time creating household wealth.

DEMBY: Absolutely. So the fortunes that some of those early, early Black franchisees made - or at least, like, the upper-middle-class lives that they managed to attain, they were mostly, like, out of reach. And obviously, for the workers at those places, fast food was never going to be an avenue to wealth or even, you know, livability in a lot of cases. There may have been more of those jobs in the Black neighborhoods than there were before the civil rights movement, but these were still, you know, close to minimum wage jobs with very few protections.

MERAJI: Right. Black capitalism is still capitalism.

DEMBY: Yes. And in a lot of places, those were the only jobs in town. That's where we get into, like, all the other like broader consequences of fast food - right? - on community health, on climate. Marcia said that, you know, in a real way, Calvin represented this ethos, you know, shared by many of those franchisees, that them creating jobs was a kind of civic duty that they felt. But he was also kind of meant as a response to the idea of the McJob - right? - that these jobs were just dead-end gigs, that they weren't cool places to work. But even now, Marcia says, the ideas about Black uplift that Calvin represented are still with us. So remember, way back in 1968 when Black people were organizing and marching and there was unrest across the country, people were making very clear asks.

CHATELAIN: we want the police to stop beating us. We want decent housing. We want good schools for our children. We want jobs that pay living wages. We want public spaces in which to gather and create and grow.

DEMBY: And Marcia said what Black neighborhoods got instead was, you know, small business loans, tax breaks, so-called empowerment zones. The people in those neighborhoods got to participate a little more in the consumer economy.

CHATELAIN: The answer was if someone opens a bookstore, if someone opens a McDonald's franchise, will you stop asking for things? And that was always the kind of issue that perplexed me. What did I just ask you?

DEMBY: America might not have had the stomach for anything bolder or more transformative, like things that would have put a dent in these inequalities that we're always talking about. bUT it did have an appetite for, though, was, well, Quarter Pounders.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Gene, you first talked to Marcia about her book last year. But since then, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by the police. And in fact, right before we recorded this, another Black man named Daunte Wright was also killed by the police in Minneapolis. This is at the same time that the trial for Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with George Floyd's murder, is going on. And lots of people took to the streets to call attention to these huge problems in American society after George Floyd's death. A lot of them are the very same problems people were calling attention to in the 1960s.

DEMBY: That's absolutely right. Marcia said that many of the asks then and now have been similar, but so has a big part of the response. Like, instead of grappling with these hard questions around these issues like how and whether we should reimagine how our society is arranged or thinking about what people need, the reaction that has been most sustained and the loudest has generally been more like...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1, BYLINE: (Reading) Target commits to spending more than two billion dollars with Black-owned businesses by 2025.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2, BYLINE: (Reading) At Tiffany & Co., we want to use the privilege of our platform to make a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3, BYLINE: Robinhood stands in solidarity with everyone fighting systemic racism.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Reading) To our Black community, we want you to know that we hear you and we care about your experiences on TikTok.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Reading) Uber stands in solidarity with the Black community and with peaceful protests against the injustice...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Reading) This is the work of anti-racism, and the journey for Peloton begins now.

CHATELAIN: And that has been the treatment of Black people for more than five decades. And so, you know, after George Floyd's death, when I kept on hearing buy Black businesses, support Black creators, I had just moved into a house, and I was buying furniture. And all these furniture companies were like, we pledge to have 15% of our furniture designers to be Black. I'm like, OK, let's go back to the central reason why George Floyd's life did not matter that day. What in the world will these businesses do? And I think that the danger of all of these bad ideas is that to suggest that then Black businesses can actually support the weight of massive state failure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Shereen, we just talked about this idea that Black business owners could help mitigate racism. And as we saw, you know, there are some pretty obvious limitations to it. It's a hard, low ceiling because as individuals, you can't really change things for an entire community, even if you're an individual influential business. But what if you created an entire community and it was based on this idea of Black capitalism?

MERAJI: So like Black McDonald's, but Supersized.

DEMBY: Yes. I see what you did there. ON next week's show, a man who almost created a capital for Black capitalism.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: He wanted to take the American dream, the dream of opportunity, upward mobility and self-determination and make that dream available to a group of people to whom it had been denied. The place he had in mind existed all around him. It just didn't exist for Black people.

DEMBY: All right, y'all. That's our show. Please follow us on Twitter. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. You can follow Shereen @RadioMirage and me @GeeDee215. We want to hear from you. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org, and subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

MERAJI: This episode was produced by Leah Donnella and Jess Kung. It was edited by Leah Donnella.

DEMBY: And of course we got to shout out the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive. That's Kumari Devarajan, Karen Grigsby Bates, LA Johnson, Natalie Escobar, Alyssa Jeong Perry and Steve Drummond. Our intern is Summer Thomad.

MERAJI: He's Gene Demby.

DEMBY: And you are Shereen Marisol Meraji.

MERAJI: Be easy, y'all.

DEMBY: Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.