Shareholder Theory (Or, Maria Finally Uses Her Business Studies For Something Useful)

So every finance major you’ve ever met has learned that central tenet of the corporate religion known as shareholder theory: financial managers exist to maximize shareholder value. Simply put, a good financial manager seeks to increase their corporation’s profits and thereby grow a stock owner’s dividend payment; if the stock owner is happy, the manager is happy.

This might seem intuitive, but shareholder theory actually introduces a quagmire of moral ambiguity. Underpaying employees; exploiting child workers; and engaging in cheaper, environmentally unsustainable practices can each increase profits, but at what cost? Can any businessperson worth his salt truly justify such blatant unethicality?

Yes, actually. According to shareholder theory, we’re taught exactly that.

 That’s because those employees and those children are not shareholders, but stakeholders: parties with a vested interest in a firm but who do not necessarily own stock in that firm. In this case, the stakeholders rely on the company for income–they want the company to do well so that they can make enough money to survive. In all cases, shareholder theory requires that financial managers completely cut stakeholder interests out of the picture; shady business practices of all sorts are not only allowed, but encouraged, so long as they benefit shareholders.

During this week’s discussions, we debated whether or not James Baldwin had a responsibility to represent the female perspective in his work as a man. Professor Kinyon reminded us that James Baldwin catered his rhetoric to a white male audience. White women historically supported the political narrative by aligning their votes with their husbands’; Baldwin could therefore concentrate his conversion efforts on an all-male congregation and achieve similar results.

To synthesize these ideas, the men are shareholders: they own stock in the political arena and Baldwin (our trusty financial manager) must appease them to succeed. The women that Baldwin marginalizes in his body of work are stakeholders and, according to shareholder theory, simply do not factor into the equation. 

The funny thing about shareholder theory, though, is that–as ingrained into our curriculum as it may be–it doesn’t work. Studies show that when companies put their stakeholders first, they actually perform significantly better in the long run. By taking care of employees (factory workers, custodians, etc.), a company improves its own efficiency and reaps higher profits, therefore better satisfying both financial managers and shareholders. This is called stakeholder theory.

I believe that in the same way, Baldwin could have maximized his own success by addressing the female perspective in his work. If his goal was to increase interracial cooperation and improve the Black condition in America, Baldwin might’ve enjoyed greater success by affording women the same time and attention as men rather than ignoring 50% of the very society he sought to change. While I can understand the logic that led Baldwin to tailor his rhetoric to white men, I can’t help but question whether or not his efforts to maximize shareholder value at stakeholders’ expense precluded him from fully recognizing another value–that of the female perspective–altogether.

The Price Paid by Irish Immigrants

Last week, our class discussed the “price of the ticket” for Irish immigrants in coming to America and becoming white. The process of becoming white and finding success in America as Irish immigrants hinges on denying the Black presence and thus debasing themselves. As Baldwin writes in “On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” the price of the ticket for white people is delusion. Because white Americans have built their identity on fear of Black people and the fear of lacking power, they are unable to have a community. Instead, as Baldwin writes, they are a multitude. However, they have deluded themselves into believing they are a community. 

Irish immigrants are a particularly interesting case of paying the ultimate price for power. Aside from their delusion, another price they pay is losing their community, their language, their culture. In joining the white monolith, Irish immigrants lose their Irishness. The extent of many Irish Americans’ understanding of Irish culture is rooted in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and possibly supporting Notre Dame football. 

In coming to America, the Irish lose their identity, but many of them left to escape that same fate back home. The English were hard at work subjugating the Irish people, stripping them of their language, their religion, and their freedom. Ironically, the Irish who left for America ended up suffering the same fate. In the process of escaping one power attempting to crush their culture, they lost their culture themselves. To some immigrants, the cost of the ticket was lower than the cost of staying. As white Americans, they denied the existence of Black Americans like the English denied the existence of the Irish. Black Americans were able to retain their community, because it was not built on fear. They developed a language and kept their culture alive as they battled for freedom. 

Black Education?

Over the weekend, I witnessed an argument between my friends about the merits of Black students attending HBCUs versus PWIs.  Many of the points made brought me back to James Baldwin’s short story, “A Fly in Buttermilk,” where he talks to G and his family about the experience of attending an all-white school. Baldwin writes, “I began to suspect that the boy managed to support the extreme tension of his situation by means of nearly fanatical concentration on his schoolwork; by holding in the center of his mind the issue on which, when the deal went down, others would be forced to judge him. Pride and silence were his weapons. Pride comes naturally, and soon, to a Negro, but even his mother, i felt, was worried about G.’s silence, though she was too wise to break it. For what was all this doing to him really?”(193) While some might argue that society has progressed and that the severity of racism Black students face today cannot compare to what G experienced, there is complete merit in the observation that learning can be much more difficult when one is uncomfortable, isolated or misunderstood. While all Black students are not the same, it can be argued that being the first or the only can create a tense or difficult learning environment.  When there is a lack of understanding or relatability relative to teachers, administrators, and even fellow students, it can negatively affect learning. Rather than being immersed in the subject matter, these students can be preoccupied with understanding, fitting in, and not being ridiculed. Learning environments are critical to information share and retention. While the discrepancy in education levels G saw between his two schools is much greater than the differences between HBCU’s and PWI’s, when one thinks of “elite” institutions, HBCUs are rarely included. This leads to a few questions. Is there a discrepancy in what is being taught? Can HBCUs help Black students thrive because they’ve eliminated the distraction of isolation? Should Black students explore PWIs even if there’s a tangible price to pay academically and or socially? Should the best and brightest Black students attend HBCUs to bolster these critical centers of learning? In fairness, it would seem that many of the answers are dependent on an individual’s preference. A blanket approach would underserve many. The fight should be to grow the population of college attendees—information and education seekers—above all else. These are a series of difficult choices and considerations. As we discussed in class, segregation and integration have both resulted in additional challenges for Black people in America.

So how do we move forward?

Throughout the course and over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about the price that was paid for some to become white, who tells history, how they tell it and why, and who has to do the work to redeem this country. I’ve also been thinking about Rae’Vonne’s post regarding confederate statues and symbols and how those ties in the fabric of what is America. In On Being ‘White’ and Other Lies,” Baldwin states: ” America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence and justifying the Black subjugation.” He continues to assert that the white community is built on a “genocidal” lie. People became white through many crimes against humanity, against Black people. This brings me back to Rae’Vonne’s blog post about the statues. So much brutality has broken out over the past couple of years over symbols and uses of American history. Baldwin did talk about this desire that those who identify with the history of the confederacy, be it because they’re actually racist or (what is the other option? a love of history?), wanting to protect this inhumane foundation at all costs. Why? Because the history of this country is seen as inseparable from the statues and monuments today.

In 2010, a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi floored his car into a group of protesters in Virginia. Many people were injured and a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed. The protesters were gathered to battle against America’s racist history. In that town, there are still statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jackson. Some people want those statues and those like them to be torn down, while others, who proudly call themselves neo-nazis or nationalists, see it as a representation of their understanding of America where white people are superior. Some, who have rejected these two groups still want the statues because they claim it reminds the country of brilliant military leadership. There will always be, it seems disagreements on the story that is told. In “No Name in the Street,” Baldwin said, “One may see that the history, which is now indivisible from oneself, has been full of errors and excesses; but this is not the same thing as seeing that, for millions of people, this history . . . has been nothing but an intolerable yoke, a stinking prison, a shrieking grave.” If White people and those with power in this country continue to accept this genocidal lie, then no one else can effectively reject it or move forward in true progress. So how do we move forward? I’m not sure, but the way I see it, one of the crucial steps is to educate and teach every facet of history to our children and ourselves.

The Truth about Our Education

Last week’s presentations made me think a lot about the educational system in the United States and how we are doing such a disservice to our country’s students by not teaching them the truth. As Charity pointed out in her presentation, education takes place within the confines of a society that strives to uphold the values and status quo of that society. What a child learns in school cannot be separated from what she learns outside of the classroom, and the classroom can either reinforce or challenge what a student learns in her everyday life. Usually, because of the way that schools are structured and regulated, a child learns a very cut-and-dry version of the material that she is meant to comprehend. We see this with how schools teach students about slavery and civil rights in that children only learn about the same preapproved topics of discussion without any context of Black history. For example, students do not often know the truth about how horrible the conditions of slavery were, the lynchings that took place, and the gross injustices that were put into practice in order to try to control Black individuals. They do not learn about slavery from the Black perspective and about how Black people fought back against these injustices, thereby sending a message to students that it must not have been all that bad. This invalidates the Black experience and the intergenerational trauma that has taken place because of this horrific past. Our educational system is designed to keep the divide between Black and white students, to control Black students, and to establish “inferiority” and “superiority” among the different students. It is my hope that as our society becomes more aware of the problems with perpetuating these practices, our teachers and our schools will be more willing to teach this material with the integrity and empathy that it necessitates.

Problems with Integration

During the Civil Rights era, and still today, most Americans were taught that integration was the solution to racism. Growing up I constantly heard that racism no longer existed, and was educated to believe that the civil rights movement gave Black people equality. Soon I realized that it was silly to even suggest to kids that you should have to fight to be treated fairly, and that racism was still prevalent. Though I grew up privileged, hardly exposed to the harshest realities of what it was like to be Black in America, I was not very old before I started seeing it. I remember crying at 13 when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted because I simply could not understand how the system could fail. I watched far too much Law and Order and wanted to become an attorney, so I had faith in the justice system; until I started seeing more. Soon my experiences with racism were not just hearing about Trayvon Martin, or being left out by my white classmates, I began experiencing micro-aggressions, long before I could even register them as such. Countless videos of Black death flooded my social media feed all throughout my youth; all with the same hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. This has been my reality for as long as I can remember, but after the events of last summer, including the murder of George Floyd, and the following protests in defense of Black lives, it seems everyone has started seeing racism like I did. I think the Black Lives Matter movement has more allies than ever before and it seems like everyone has finally realized that racism has not been defeated, and thus, integration did not solve America’s biggest problem. 

The article “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters” displays Baldwin’s grasp of complex racial issues that affected Black people of his time and remain prevalent  today. He does not spew out hatred for the nation, create monstrous characters to make his point, or simply critique systems of power; rather Baldwin discusses his experiences with systemic racism, and by tying in history and  his lived reality, articulates concepts many other civil rights activists failed to grasp. Long before Gen-Z was on Twitter berating the Democratic party for its lack of action towards racial justice, Baldwin knew integration into white society would not save Black Lives. As written in the article “Simply integrating oneself into white society was, in his mind, neither a sufficient nor sustainable goal.” Like me and every other person of color, Baldwin had experiences coming to terms with the realities of racism in America, and he understood something that many are just coming to terms with today- integration does not solve racial problems. 

I can’t think of any oppressed group in history that was liberated by its oppressors, so like the author of the article, I believe radical change is the only thing that can transform our society. Reforms and integration have not eliminated violence against Black people and a lot of it remains state-sanctioned violence. I think Black people should reject respectability politics and rethink how we perceive integration, to understand why it has not and won’t fix systemic issues plaguing the community. Most of all I think it is important to focus on how we are teaching history. Part of the reason Baldwin resonates with me so deeply is because of his ability to articulate the the struggles of human existence in a deeply personal matter. Though he writes about human struggles, his literature evokes feelings of compassion and empathy; even when people suffer at the hands of societal structures people generally defend. As stated in the article Baldwin knew “the ‘Negro problem’ of today would be addressed by targeting the laws and practices of state-sanctioned violence, not by being accepted to join the executors.” Baldwin discussions of his experiences with systemic racism in his literature  articulates concepts many other civil rights activists in the past and allies and people in the movement now have failed to grasp.

Guilty Innocence

During class this past week, there was a discussion about the subtle ways racism has been integrated into our society. One way is through the nursery rhyme “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe”. It was a shock to learn that the verse “catcha tiger by it’s toe” was really written as “catch a nigger by it’s toe”. I remember singing this rhyme as a kid while picking who was going to be it in tag. It’s crazy to me that innocent children are taught things like this that seem innocent, but at its roots are not. Changing a word in the song does not change the spirit of the song. It makes me wonder what other things look innocent in our society, but really has a hidden meaning or origin. 

The first thing that came to mind for me was the school system in America. The majority of the great people we learn about in American history are white males. We learn about the great inventions created by white individuals, and the great impacts white men have had on society. However, the lack of black leaders, inventions, and impacts by African Americans shown in curriculum is not an accident. It is a strategy. In “A Talk to Teachers”, Baldwin writes, “…he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization” (679). The lack of teaching done on black excellence results in black youth assuming that they never have and never will do anything great. This is stunting their determination to change their society at a young age.

The way slavery is taught also causes problems. Baldwin states, “ He is assured by the republic that… his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon- eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie” (679). Slavery is taught in a watered down way that prevents the herendous truth of slavery from being told. Students, black and white, can easily walk away not realizing how terrible it was. In addition, there were many revolts that took place, however the educational system does not teach that. They do not want black youth to know that their ancestors were strong and fought back because then black youth will know that they are strong and can fight back. It seems innocent that the educational system is teaching slavery to students, and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that we learn these things. However, the way they teach it secretly has another agenda. 

Teaching majority white history may seem innocent on the surface, but there are darker tactics at work. It may seem innocent to “forget” about the black excellence in history or tell the full horror of slavery, but it is not. There are hidden origins to these tactics, and I am sure there are many other examples of false innocence in our society.

James Baldwin as a Revolutionary

When I think of James Baldwin, I do not see him as a revolutionary. It is not that I do not respect his work for Black Americans or that I believe that he did not do enough work to better the American environment for Black Americans. But in a way, James Baldwin did not do enough. His positionality was not one that would cause an overhaul of the Western industrial complex or even that of the American industrial complex.

In a way, James Baldwin was complicit in the suffering of Algerians at the hands of the French. Just because you are American does not mean that you have the right to ignore the suffering of others. In ignoring the suffering of the Algerians to allow for the “freeing of his soul”, James Baldwin took up a position that white people take in America.

James Baldwin protected his place in society by ignoring the suffering of the Algerians. I do not know if it was his place to speak on the oppression of Algerians but Frantz Fanon spoke on it when he was from Martinique. James Baldwin chose to stay blind to the suffering of Algerians. Even when you do not feel right speaking up about a topic, it is your prerogative to uplift voices that can speak on it. James Baldwin did not do that.

In that vein, James Baldwin is not a revolutionary because he did not see the point of overall Black freedom. Nor did he truly see the point of Black freedom in America. The idea that love can solve everything is incomplete. Again, I am going to bring up Stokley Carmichael’s quote. True reconciliation is impossible with a country or a society that has no conscience or feels no pity or shame for what it has done to you and your people.

James Baldwin asserts that it is possible for racist white people to come around and partake in the love that he was talking about, but it has been years. We are dealing with the same things over and over again. If there was a point at which racist white people would come around, would it not have happened by now? What is it that we have to do to make them come around? What is it that we, as Black people, have to change to make them come around?

The answer should be nothing. In changing ourselves to receive some affection from those who hate us, we essentially destroy ourselves in the process. This is not an argument where you can meet in the middle (not to say that that is what James Baldwin was saying). Sometimes I think it is impossible for America to change. Sometimes I think that people like James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. have not done enough to actually change America.

I think about the Black Panther Party that crossed racial lines and country boundaries to bring together a coalition that could reset the way America and the rest of the Western world worked (not to say that this movement did not have its own problems). I think about John Brown who was about that action and sacrificed his life to the movement to end slavery. James Baldwin does not fit in with these people. I hate to say it but maybe he was all words and no action.

Women as Secondary Citizens

In the presentations this week, I came across a quote from a Rhonda Lois Blumberg’s Women in the Civil Rights Revolution: Reform or Revolution? that was referenced. It read, “[d]espite the active participation of women in revolutionary movements, feminist impulses that surface are usually considered secondary to the ‘main’ battle and are not allowed to interfere with it. The stirrings of feminism, within the civil rights movement were considered divisive.” (Blumberg 137) This really made me think beyond the civil rights movement in America over to any struggle or movement, by the oppressed, that I have heard of. Women are always last. It is always a fight for independence that the said oppressed – men and women – work together towards achieving this goal. After overcoming multiple hardships, when independence from the oppressor is achieved, men get all the rights, but women need to continue their struggle to further achieve the rights that they helped the men achieve. This sad truth seems to be a pattern. In India, when the country gained independence from the British Raj, after two hundred years of struggle, the men could have some respite, but the women had to continue their struggle. The British, took the convenient and non-controversial route and did not take a decision on female suffrage. It is after the Montagu – Chelmsford reforms that women were granted the right to vote. These discussions took place before India formally became independent, which meant that the time period for women to achieve this goal was relatively shorter to that in other countries. In the US, it took nearly a hundred years for women to achieve this feat. The fact that women, in so many culturally and geographically different situations are ignored to a point where their rights are seen as a secondary issue is a problem I fail to understand the root of. How did the phenomenon of male superiority come about at different times across the world, in vastly different contexts? And why was it ever okay? 

History & Justice

“My Dungeon Shook” combines a personal, philosophical, and urgent tone to create a weighty and undeniably moving piece. Particularly, after reading it in light of our discussion regarding effective teaching pedagogies, I was struck by the language surrounding history. Baldwin effectively categorizes the way history functions as a tool for the oppressor, as well as its interaction with whiteness. “History,” though, in this letter is a complex term. For example, Baldwin delineates between different types of histories. Of the crimes of whiteness, Baldwin asserts “neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” Here, history seems to refer to a neutral, objective force of justice and inertia, that ultimately progresses toward true emancipation for Black Americans. 

Baldwin describes another kind of history, though. He explains, white people “are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” The entrapping, false history is distinguishable from the previous definition. History, in this context, upholds injustice and opposes motion. It also comes to define whiteness, in its horrific and distorted “innocence” of manipulative and coercive ignorance. It is this type of history that Baldwin tells his nephew “does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.” The malleable history is forgettable, boring, and whitewashed. It lacks nuance but commands and ensures violence. 

Luckily, Baldwin continues to resist through his letter to his nephew. Once again, he reinterprets the word history. By narrowing in on the particulars that whiteness erases, Baldwin reanimates history. He tells his nephew “It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of 4 the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.” With his history of dignity and honesty, Baldwin inches society closer to the capital H history which moves indefinitely and unstoppably toward justice.