Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Speaking up on racism'

The Apple boss, in an open letter, commits to 'do more' to make a more just world for all.

Apple, tim cook, Minneapolis, racism, technology

In an important move, Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an open letter on the company’s website in which he speaks up on racism following the tragic events emanating from Minneapolis.

Face the challenge of change

Responding to the “senseless killing” of George Floyd, Cook pulls no punches, pointing to the longer history of racism.

Observing that discrimination persists across many parts of life, including criminal justice, health and access to education and services, Cook states:

“While our laws have changed, the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied. We’ve seen progress since the America I grew up in, but it is similarly true that communities of color continue to endure discrimination and trauma.”

Cook, who draws inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King, uses the open letter to make several commitments to do more in the future in this struggle, including maintaining the company’s work against environmental injustice, which (he points out) disproportionately harms black communities and other communities of color.

'We must do more'

He also commits to getting resources into schools, and to work harder on the company’s own inclusion and diversity goals.

Apple recently claimed 53% of its new hires in the U.S. come from “historically underrepresented groups” in technology, though it is worth pointing out that black representation (9%) has remained relatively static since 2016.

Apple is also donating to organizations including the Equal Justice Initiative. (There is a GoFundMe page raising money in support of Floyd's young daughter Gianna Floyd and her mother Roxie Washington.)

The bottom line, as Cook sees it, is that human dignity matters. He also signals his thoughts on structural discrimination, when he writes:

“This is a moment when many people may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, or to a status quo that is only comfortable if we avert our gaze from injustice. As difficult as it may be to admit, that desire is itself a sign of privilege.”

Signing off, Apple’s CEO states:

“With every breath we take, we must commit to being that change, and to creating a better, more just world for everyone.”

A message for the enterprise

Cook has not been shy about taking a stance on matters that matter. Not one to sit on the sidelines, he has also proved himself capable of working constructively with others whose views he may not share.

This is reflected by action.

Take the ongoing COVID-19 crisis: Apple’s business most certainly suffered as a result of the challenge, but the company also launched multiple initiatives in an attempt to mitigate the wider consequences on society. Shops were shut, huge donations made, and tweaks and improvements seemed to emerge from within every section of the company.

We now know the pandemic disproportionally impacts some of the most marginalized people – not only are these communities more liable to suffer the consequences of the disease, they are also less able to sustain the financial losses caused by the lockdown.

The shame is that the true heroes of the crisis are not those at the top of the tree, but the often poorly-paid health carers, city workers and retail staff who have kept society going while we go through it.

Where is their reward?

Just like every other enterprise, tech firms understand the nature of business in our connected age has transformed. Where they can, people seek values, not just when they shop, but also when they seek out work.

So, is Apple’s CEO simply trying to associate his brand with these matters in order to maintain its connection with the company’s customers? Can these thoughts be dismissed as little more than public relations?

While some critics may try to accuse Cook of that, the mud won’t stick. This is because Cook also knows that his customers don’t just respond to nice sentiments, but also seek authenticity. And I’d be hard-pressed to believe a man who openly draws inspiration from Martin Luther King and remains (as far as I know) America’s only openly gay CEO has lived a life in which he has been fortunate enough to remain unaware of structural inequality and the need to break down the walls of prejudice.

Though in some places those walls are tall and removing them seems likely to take a little more time.

“When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy,” wrote Cook in 2014.

“I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick.”

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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