Giving to charity: No Man Walks Alone, Covid and Black Lives Matter

Wednesday, February 17th 2021
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Charitable giving: No Man Walks Alone

Runners up: The Anthology, Private White VC

 

I was a little surprised by the cynicism of around this award. Clearly, people are seeing more brands than me using charity (at least partly) as a form of marketing. 

Still, there was a lot of genuine charity work, and votes from readers wishing to recognise that. As promised, all the great work is highlighted at the end of this piece.

I also won’t refer to No Man Walks Alone as the winner, even if more people voted for them than anyone else. Everyone deserves recognition. 

What I will do is use this article to dig into what I think is a very interesting subject: why brands give to charity, how they decide who to give to, and how they calculate how much to give. 

There was no suggestion from readers that NMWA were using their donations for cynical marketing. But they did receive public criticism for other reasons, particularly in reaction to donating to anti-racism movements. 

Which leads to other interesting questions: How many brands see it as a risk to publicly support a cause? If they risk that on the one hand, and cynicism on the other, why would they do it - why not just keep all their lovely profits for themselves? 

And is this attitude - perhaps exaggerated by political tensions in the US - stopping people from giving, or at least talking about it and so encouraging others to do so?

Permanent Style: Hi Greg. To start with, could you give us a quick rundown on the different charitable endeavours that No Man Walks Alone undertook last year?

Greg Lellouche (above): Hey Simon. Sure. So, in March 2020 we decided we wanted to do something to try and help those that were suffering from Covid-19 in the US. At that point, it seemed like the people that were hardest hit were the old and vulnerable, who were having to stay home and couldn’t go out to shop or eat. 

So we did some research, including talking to people we knew in the area and digging into analysis, and felt that the cause that needed the help most - and would have the most immediate effect - was Meals-on-Wheels. Meal requests had almost doubled in the preceding weeks. 

Over two months, we used an offer on the site to raise money with purchases, and donated $25,558 in total to the cause, which paid for over 4,000 meals. 

That sounds like a lot of work deciding which charity to give to. Why did you go into so much detail?

We always want to be sure we’re giving effectively - in an efficient way, where the money does the most good. I give personally as well, but that’s to causes that have affected me. With the company, it’s more analytical.

It’s also an approach we’ve used it in the past. For example we donated profits after Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017. That displaced a lot of people, and it created real migration too, like Katrina. 

But last year also felt different for us. I think it was a point where we decided this should be like a tenet of our company, how we saw ourselves as an organisation. We wanted to make it part of our mission to do good, to advance issues that we thought were worthwhile, and be more of a responsible citizen. 

In theory it’s hard to see anyone objecting to that, yet you ran into some opposition when you began your next period of giving, after the death of George Floyd in June. 

We did, and there was a lot of debate internally about what we should do - which I think reflected what a difficult area this is. 

What were the internal debates about?

Mostly about which organisations we should support - and whether they were doing the right things, focusing on the right issues. 

So for example we gave money to Fair Fight, which helps support people in their voting rights, and combating voter suppression; that’s relatively uncontroversial.

But we also gave to Campaign Zero, which promotes policing reform. Some people - particularly in the public debates around policing in America - feel that this doesn’t go far enough, and campaign for defunding of the police. It’s a complex area. 

One of the things we could all agree on was to approach the problem from multiple angles. So on the one hand we wanted to fund grassroots movements, like Black Lives Matter - which is more a diffuse organisation of movements - as they would make an immediate difference. 

But on the other hand we wanted to give to organisations that combat the broader results of inequality, such as the Bail Project, which aims to reduce incarceration and reform the unjust bail system.

The last of the five causes we gave to was the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal services to people that have been wrongly accused, or that need attorneys when they’ve been arrested during protests. That was an organisation that needed immediate help, because of the scale of the protests and subsequent arrests. 

How did you deal with the criticism you received on social media?

Well, some of it was more a question of policy, as with the Campaign Zero debate, and whether that went far enough. We had quite a few comments about that on Instagram and Facebook. 

But I think the aims of Black Lives Matter are really only debated in bad faith. There’s a segment of the population that just reacts negatively to the name, and doesn’t understand the movement. 

Was it scary, knowing this would provoke controversy? Either because you were likely to lose customers and money, or actually be threatened as some organisations have been?

Not especially - I think it helped how much support we had, and quickly received, from our followers and people that we knew were with us. 

We knew we were going to turn off people, and we certainly lost hundreds of followers immediately on Instagram. But that happened as soon as we said anything, even just expressing outrage at the death of George Floyd - so I think it just speaks to the kind of political divisions there are here in the US. 

How could you possibly object to someone simply being outraged at that video, showing a man having his neck knelt on for eight minutes by a policeman until he was dead?

The issue in this country at the moment is that there is no nuance. Everything is taken at face value, as a trigger to react one way or the other. It’s perfectly possible to be a Trump supporter and be outraged at that act of police violence. And then to have a healthy debate about what to do about it. 

Unfortunately there’s just no space for that at the moment - politicians have actively tried to divide the country and people against each other. So we knew we’d have a reaction, we knew we’d lose sales. 

Were you ever scared that it would undermine the business - either through losing customers, or making such a big ongoing commitment? I’m sure that would scare anyone running a small company.

I don’t think we were, no. It helps having a relatively mature business, so you have confidence in your supporters and what you do. But also, this was a year where no one knew whether their business would survive anyway. We didn’t know what was going to happen. 

I noticed the antiracism project was rather bigger - or broader - than the previous campaigns. Why was that?

We wanted to do something other than just give money this time. We’d realised from previous giving how actions trigger other people into action - you could see that on social media. 

So we did a few things such as making a 15% pledge around black brands: by Spring 2022 we will buy at least 15% of our inventory from black-owned brands, and dedicate at least 15% of our marketing efforts to promote them.

We wanted to be more attuned to black designers and how much harder it can be for them to get in the door. The mentoring programme we set up was part of that as well - we know a lot of people that can help designers with marketing, with finding factories, with IP and legal issues. So we wanted to set up a way for them to connect.

How has the mentoring programme been so far? 

The response has been surreal, really impressive. We’ve had over 50 applications, and taken on 10 mentees. There are more details on the website page if anyone wants details - and you can see some of the mentors we have involved as well. [Below]

How much does this amount to positive discrimination, do you think, and how do you feel about that?

That’s a good question, and it’s some of the negative reaction we’ve had, especially to our mentoring programme: ‘That sounds great, but I’m white, why can’t I access it?’

I think it comes down to, in our very small way, repairing some of the issues created by the implicit or explicit bias that exists throughout the process of a black designer launching a collection. Whether it’s getting into a school, succeeding in that school, getting the right internships, access to the right mentors and so on. 

When you talk to black designers, you just realise all of those steps are harder. But it’s very hard to convey to someone that hasn’t been subjected to it. I think most accusations of reverse racism - as through years of affirmative action too - are usually based on a lack of understanding of that experience. 

I really do understand the reaction - the feeling of suddenly encountering your own negative bias, when you haven't faced it before. But there has to be some pushback the other way. We need to find ways to help people right now as well as changing the fundamental, long-term problems.

Moving on to another type of negative reaction, were you surprised how many readers are cynical about philanthropy by brands?

Not really. I think it’s very hard not to fall into a cynical mode, and react that way to everything. We’re fed so much information, so much greenwashing. Particularly when you see Zara and H&M putting out sustainability papers, when at their heart the business is just not sustainable - there’s no way it can be, when you’re selling shirts for $4.99.

We’re sold at so much these days, particularly in the US, so I understand that reaction. Perhaps the biggest problem is that it just makes people cynical about everything. 

It seems to particularly put people off when brands shout loudly about what they’re doing. But then, it’s by shouting that you raise awareness about an issue, and encourage others to take action too.

Exactly. That was why we wanted to talk so much about our projects - you have a bigger impact, a network effect. So maybe that’s one thing that’s not fully understood when cynics react to public statements. 

For example, the mentoring programme has worked because other people talked about it - in GQ, in Robb Report. Lots of people covered it, and that created the awareness to bring in applicants. We couldn’t have done it otherwise unless we hired a big PR agency. 

Perhaps it’s more about the tone. Simple statements and descriptions of actions, rather than highly produced videos and boasts of lives changed. 

Yes, there’s probably a lot in that. We’ve always wanted to keep it simple, like the statement post we originally put out about our approach to racism. 

Looking back on it, I think 2020 was a watershed year for us. While we don’t want to define ourselves by our philanthropy - the way some brands talk about nothing but sustainability - this is going to a continuous part of who we are. 

This is not a one off: we’ve made a commitment to giving for the long term, and it’s now a big part of what makes No Man Walks Alone what it is. 

We’re going to hold ourselves accountable too, and want customers to do that. We’ll report back regularly, and follow-up on all our projects. Whether anyone’s watching or not. 

Above: some of the current black-owned brands carried by NMWA - Glenn's Denim, Post-Imperial and Norwegian Rain

Other brands whose philanthropy readers wanted to be recognised:

  • Standard & Strange
  • Marc Allen
  • Emma Willis
  • Tom James / Individualized Shirts
  • Patagonia
  • Thursday Boots
  • Cad & The Dandy / Huntsman
  • Connolly
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Lewis

I salute the endeavours of NMWA, its very heartening to read and I am sure that these actions will carry with them the patronage of the humanistically minded customers of whom I hope there are many. Based on past threads on PS im not sure all of the PS readership would agree. Cant wait to read the comments.

Gab

Hi Simon,
I have been a reader for a long time, but I am sincerely sad to see identity politics contaminating what was a (relatively) untouched sector. I had the same thought when I listened to one of Handcut Radio’s latest podcasts with André Larnyoh. Perhaps because I am European, but I remain extremely uncomfortable with policies of targeting according to races. Which can make you fall completely by the wayside. I would applaud with both hands an initiative targeting selected projects on a purely social basis, but never one built on a racial basis, whatever that may be. Why support an upper-class black instead of a lower-class white? That makes no sense and is not a good idea for anyone and looks more like an unhealthy and vindictive step backwards. Not to turn this commentary section into a political debate (God forbids). Followership is not a risk only for fashion fashion. I hope I don’t sound aggressive, that’s only my opinion after all. And keep up the great work!

Anonymous

Sorry Simon, but here we go.

Gab, I would be interested to understand what your suggestion for addressing the racial disparity would be? Are you denying it exists or your just uncomfortable with positive discrimination? If so what effective alternative can you suggest that you would feel more comfortable with? [not that that should be a metric against which racial levelling up is judged].

You say you are ‘sad to see identity politics contaminating what was a (relatively) untouched sector’. By saying this you are suggesting that it shouldn’t be talked about? What exactly saddened you about the opinions expressed by André Larnyoh. I find you comment problematic and think it requires further justification.

Gab

Hi, I really did not want to start a political debate on identity politics. Let’s just say that I am aligned with what Simon wrote: it is the deep-rooted causes that should be adressed, through education, etc. Inequalities will not be sustainably repaired with new inequalities. Eventually, it would fuel racial animosity. Btw, nothing against André L., who seems to be a fine gentleman – it was more a comment regarding this general issue that was adressed during his interview.

Excellent thread. And if I may offer a further simplification that might serve as an entry point to understanding Gab’s point: positive discrimination is still the same as the problem it purports to solve – it’s just that the roles are switched, which leans more towards revenge than justice. That’s hardly a solution, don’t you think?

Anonymous

I disagree. It is not about replacing one inequality with another, it’s about ensuring that those who have had to work 10x harder than their white counterparts are given a fair chance. Whilst you might be saddened by the sudden “contamination” of “identity politics” in classic menswear, the reality is that it has always been present. It is only now that people are realising that it is a thing, and so the natural reaction of those who are comfortably in that position is to suddenly feel attacked. This is not it at all. Whilst I agree with Simon that tackling the causes of certain people having less opportunities, I think that also perhaps ignores the implicit biases already within the industry and how that affects the day to day runnings of these business. Especially when Saville Row is looked at, let alone the US.

Joseph Adrian Concepcion

So there has to be some sort of retroactive compensation? Please forgive me, everyone, but I fail to see why justice cannot be achieved here by extending the same openness to everyone regardless of color, rather than creating initiatives where only blacks may participate.

I will concede, however, that revenge may have been too strong and wholly inappropriate a word. I sometimes reach for the right one to use but get something else. For that also, I ask for your patience.

Thank you Simon, and the way you engage with us is always appreciated in turn.

I feel as if my view on timing is comically simple: the outcry and the actions born thereof are long overdue. Humanity, in particular the sectors that are not directly hurt by issues of race, have had too long get comfortable with the status quo, giving discriminative systems and institutions that thrive on their passivity too much time to root deeper. To the extent that making waves in such an environment seems disruptive beyond reason. It underlines how dangerous these systems and institutions can be, seeing as they have built themselves up enough to be able to dissuade, subtly or blatantly and directly or indirectly, the silent majority from joining the vocal minority. We all may have waited too long, though that’s not to say it’s too late.

I wholeheartedly agree that root causes of inequality can be more effectively addressed through better education and information. These things will inform and shape our understanding of the issues at hand as well as the resolutions we come up with. Policies that facilitate better education, transparency, and access to education have the potential to preempt attempts at obscuring legitimate grievances and quelling dissent.

Anonymous

To Joseph-
The reason justice can’t be achieved by giving everyone the openness which you speak of is because that’s what supposedly industries have been doing when looking for new talent or creatives. Yet how often do we actually see any individuals of colour reach those positions? Very few to none. And that is always due to some form of implicit bias, which can range from all sorts of reasons. Most people are unfortunately only comfortable with those they can see themselves in, and in an industry that is predominantly white, it is difficult not only for those of colour to feel welcome, but also for those own/work in those establishments to see them as though they belong.
That is the reason for the creation of initiatives that look for specifically black or ethnic designers or creatives. To give them the chance they’re not getting, because those other practices are simply failing.

Joseph Adrian Concepcion

Hi Anon,

My only rejoinder is that it would appear that these industries have not really been doing what they said they would. Giving that openness to everyone involves having the stones – the conviction – to disregard and eventually outright discard their innate implicit biases, because none of their individual reasons for having those biases will ever weigh more than genuine justice. If they skip or avoid this (admittedly difficult but ultimately necessary) part of the process, then are they even really trying? They either do it right, or they’re not doing it at all.

My thought process does not simply end at that position, however. Not when you have so deftly invited me to think more about the nuances. So thank you for the food for thought.

Jackson Heart

You’ve used the moniker “identity politics” in each of your comments. I recognize it as a reference to the politics of marginalized groups like LGBTQ people, people of color, African Americans, women or any group that organizes itself on the basis of a shared experience of inequality and injustice- which tends to create a strong identity in people. But it exists in them because identity has been thrusted on them by the very system that then derisively attacks them for organizing around it.

As a member of the dominant group that similarly organizes on a similar basis, your identity is taken for granted because it’s not threatened. However, identity, particularly racial identity, has always been a salient force of the politics of the majority. But only the dominant group gets to activate its sense of racial or shared solidarity without any derisive monikers attached to it.

We’re transforming from an unjust hierarchical system to a more just one and that means people are going to lose power or influence, but the system is not one of zero sum. A just society is a better one for all.

Finally, defunding the police asserts a proposition that if you take the funding from police and insert it into the social systems itself (drug treatment, mental health, job training and education), you’ll have less crime and require fewer police officers. The theory is that police are neither equipped nor trained to respond to many of the crises they are unfairly asked to resolve, i.e, a naked woman wielding a screwdriver as a weapon, experiencing a schizophrenic attack simply because she is unable to afford her medication. This very scenario has often ended in needless death. Also, when a police dept is defunded, the union contract, which makes it impossible to fire poor performing officiers, is dissolved and a new one is created that requires accountability and protects officers from unfair criticism. A community has a right to self-determination and create the police force it wants and not live with one that is failing them.

Darryl

Very much agree Gab. I do not think that contentious political organisations should be supported by retail charity. As a life long, vetran campaigner (ex anti nazi league, rock against racism etc) against racism I am disturbed by the politics underpinning the BLM movement, which amongst other things, calls for the dismantling of the police force and capitalism in general (and yes that would include retail menswear)!

Darryl

Well thats not true Simon as these were (maybe still are I havent checked) their stated aims on the BLM funding page.

Fred

BLM recently removed the most overtly Marxist aims (most notably their anti-family position). I’ll never purchase anything from any company that that financially supports BLM.

Zy

I am not convinced by Gab’s assertion that “identity politics” hitherto played no role in CM. A lot of men, particularly those who tend towards what I would identify as the more “custome-ish” part of CM, perform particular kinds of identity politics all the time. They consider themselves “gentlemen” and wax nostalgic about a time which often predates their own lifetime (e.g. 1920s-30s, or 1950s-60s), but which for non-white men (and indeed most women) would have been associated with drastically reduced opportunities to participate fully in society. The assertion by NMWA and others that you can enjoy tailored clothing without having to associate with this kind of sentiment, to me, is important and refreshing.

JJ

In the 1920s-30s, and in the 1950s and 1960s, I would have been called a wog in the UK. But my opportunities to participate fully in society were much better than they are now. I was equal at law to any British subject. Now I’ve a non-UK passport, and I’m not.

Where does that leave us?

Zy

I am not sure what your point is, I have to admit. Outside a relatively narrow set of circumstances, you are today able to acquire a British passport (under certain conditions, of course), or a visa (or indefinite leave to remain) which would grant you substantially the same rights as a British citizen. My point is that if you were African-American in the United States, say, during Jim Crow, there was little you could do to acquire certain kinds of rights white Americans enjoyed. And even when those rights were granted by the courts, let me remind you, they were often disregarded in practice or required substantial state intervention to be enforced (e.g. school integration in the South).

Apologies, Simon, for the detour, but I just want to reiterate that I am glad for this kind of support NMWA offers. I think, to return to the above, that it is important in keeping tailoring relevant not just in terms of fashion, but also socially. If the associations are stodgy and conservative, then I fear it will not flourish.

DE

Hi Simon, to what extent do you think the comments from the awards post was a cultural issue? I have a number of American colleagues, customers and friends who all seemingly find it much easier to talk about charitable giving than I do. In the UK, companies and even individuals are much more reticent to talk about charitable giving, lest they are criticised for ‘boasting’, ‘marketing’ and ‘virtue signalling’ or receive unfavourable comments for their charity choices. I find it refreshing to hear Greg’s comments, he talks openly about NMWA’s charitable giving without fear of judgement. Whilst I may not have personally chosen to support all the charities they have selected, I respect that they have the courage of their convictions.

Gab

Totally agree. This debate is non-existent in France for example (I am French btw which also might partially explain my own cultural bias on the identity politics issue). Since I am in a mood for deep observations this morning 🙂 I have had the impression for a long time that the importance of giving back, and the sense of community as well, might be stronger in countries where the Gov social policies are weaker (e.g very strong in the US but very weak in France).

Stephen

Firstly I have to say I generally agree with Gab.
Living in the UK, it may be that I don’t really understand the American experience. I tend to believe there is no such thing as as ‘positive discrimination’ no matter how it’s labelled. What is needed is to encourage people of all backgrounds to participate and engage, by targeting and tailoring messages. Rather than apparently arbitrary percentage targets to appoint candidates from different backgrounds. Many people prefer-in my experience- to succeed on their own efforts rather than through preferential treatment. Obvious exceptions being disabled access and special needs.
Whilst I applaud the efforts and think fund raising by retailers is an excellent thing to do, we must also not forget that many people quietly donate without seeking recognition for doing so.
Simon, this article by its very nature is going to generate debate and not all is going to be necessarily supportive, however in a free speech society this is to be expected and diffusing views should be encouraged. It speak highly of you and your readership that the debate is so polite. Something other social media and institutions could learn from: ie open, reasonable, polite and nuanced debate.

Stephen

Hi Simon, good point on the 15%. I didn’t know that but suspected something similar. I did mean more generally and should have said appear arbitrary. One issue is that when percentage data is used long and often inclusive polarising debates can follow. Whether applied to educational attainment, crime statistics, employment etc. Not one for here, however a good (and sometimes complex) area for readers to look into. Again congratulations to you for igniting some thinking.

Josh

How enlightening and refreshing to read the extent to which Greg and the team at NWA considered and supported some of the most pressing and important causes of the last year. Greg’s eloquent, pointed defence of their support for causes relating to Black Lives Matter was particularly impressive. I’m now far more inclined to support them as a brand even though their US base isn’t quite so convenient for me in the UK.

I think there is often a knee-jerk reaction to positive discrimination and anti-racism movements among white people, particularly in Europe, simply because many would rather think of society as ‘post-race’. The reasoning often seems to be thus: the era of slavery is long past; they, as an individual, abhor it and everything it stood far; to react differently to other races is discriminatory and we should therefore all aim to be colour blind and treat everyone the same.

The problem, of course, is that society is not colour blind. There are many opportunities and benefits afforded to white people based on the colour of their skin and their historic and socioeconomic advantages. People of colour are statistically far more likely to experience poorer health, occupy vanishingly few positions of power and authority, and continue to experience individual and systemic racism on a daily basis.

To pretend that society is post-race is to actively ignore the historic and present injustices faced by people of colour. This doesn’t mean that other injustices don’t exist. Economic inequality impacts white people too. But neither cause invalidates the other.

To anyone who might be interested, I’d highly recommend the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning documentary film ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ by Raoul Peck as an eye-opening reflection on recent history and ongoing racial inequality.

Diego

Hi Josh – very well said.

I also think that there is a general lack of understanding of statistics and data. I think that most people ultimately support very similar objectives but disagree in the methods to achieve them. I think most people would agree that, conceptually, positive discrimination is not perfect. Nonetheless, based on my limited knowledge, I understand that, according to the data, it is one of the most effective approaches to generate a level playing field. So in general I think that it is important to be open to ideas and assess them based on the results they generate in comparison with existing alternatives.

Simon – great post. I was a bit on the cynical end but mainly because I though that it was not worth recognising this (as Greg explains they do it because they want to and not looking for recognition). However, this article, and the subsequent respectful debate, has changed my mind.

Josh

Thanks Diego, great to read your thoughts too!

Christopher Lee

Josh, indeed. In the United States, the election of Barack Obama as President prompted the acceleration of the narrative of the post-race society though we all saw what happened after his two terms. An excellent book on the myth of post-racism, though particularly in the US, is “Erasing Racism” by Molefe Kete Asante, and this was written in 2009, so before the points made by Asante on the continued existence of anti-Black racism in the US became more evident to a wider population.

Greg

I’m wondering why no one is up in arms about the “identity politics” of donating money to Meals on Wheels to feed senior citizens. Isn’t that “positive discrimination”? Ageism? What about the younger people who need help? What if some of the senior people are not poor?

Is giving to charities protecting LGBTQ rights also positive discrimination against straight people?

If you caught yourself thinking of these topics as different, stop for a moment and ask yourself why you think it’s OK to direct funding to help senior people but it’s not OK to fund anti-racist organizations that try to reverse 400 years of incredibly powerful racist sentiment that exist in America and is directly inherited from slavery, the Civil War, then Jim Crow and now permeates our society in every facet of life.

If you do not live in the US, I can see that this may be hard to understand. American anti-Black racism is its own form of racism, institutionalized and omnipresent since the very foundation of the nation. There are other forms of discrimination and racism in other parts of the world, and they may need to be dealt with differently. I understand that too.

Jtkuga

Simon,

I hope political pieces don’t become a regular part of this blog. I understand this what titled as a charity piece, but the charity appears to be mostly more like donations to political causes than what I consider real charity. I have no idea what your personal politics are, and appreciate that and the fact I don’t see you virtue signaling like so many. I hope that continues. All of us get enough politics in our lives we don’t need them here. Having said that it’s your blog so do what you want, just my thoughts!

Jtkuga

I apologize if my “mostly” characterization was unfair. I happen to work in the criminal justice system in the US, not as a police officer but closely with them. So I obviously have opinions on police reform, bail reform, etc. based on over a decade of real experience, not just cherry picked stories in the media that aren’t an accurate representation of the criminal justice system. Those stories highlight the worst parts of our imperfect system, but they represent less than 1 percent of what really goes on. And, based on my own experiences, often aren’t accurately reported anyway. Anyways I state that just to show where I am coming from, not to start a political discussion on the internet which is almost always fruitless. Back to my original point, I recognize politics has a place in style as it does in sports and many other aspects of our lives, I just hope posts like these are as rare as they have been in the past, but of course it is your blog and one of my favorites.

AL

So NMWA bringing up the discussion of racism and how it affects/hinders the progress of potential young black menswear designers getting their foot in the door is political to you? Surely it’s more of a human issue… Just wondering.

FLW

Hi Simon,

Thank you for this award and for giving NMWA a chance to explain why they contribute to these causes.

I can see where the ideas of “positive discrimination” and identity politics can turn some people off, especially if they are not American. It is tempting to believe that a colorblind approach would create the outcomes we desire, but American history has left certain groups at such a disadvantage that some redress is necessary.

Think of it this way: Say refs spent the first 30 games of an EPL season deliberately tipping every match for Man City. With 8 games to go, the scam is discovered and the league says, “from now on, all games will be called fairly.” That is great, but has little impact to the teams that lost dozens of crooked matches and now only have 8 left to play. So it is with 21st century “colorblindness” in the United States.

BLM can indeed have extreme positions, but the same could be said for “law and order” movements or veterans rights’ groups. I’ve heard Greg discuss their initiatives several times and it is clear that NMWA focuses on where their money can do the most good and address the biggest problems.

Discovering new talent that may otherwise go undiscovered and addressing the bail system (which is almost universally recognized as unfair and counter-productive) are two such examples.

Thanks again, Simon, and best of luck to Greg and company in the new year.

zo

I think its more telling the number of people who find the above discussion uncomfortable.
Let’s remember this piece is about an award voted on by readers. Its just about the business explaining and justifying what causes they supported and why. There are no political undertones, and no one is trying forward any agenda by stealth.

Anonymous

I agree, I find the uncomfortableness from some of the posters is privilege manifested.

Stephen

Hi Simon, just a quick further question. I’m curious as to whether posts like this (ie not specifically about clothes or a brand and their products) generate more comments than other posts (those bracketed above) ?

NickD

It astounds me that people can see giving to charities that help racial equality as contentious. As I see it there are two main points that are misunderstood (wilfully or not) far too often. Black Lives Matter means that all lives matter, they are promoting the point that black lives should mean as much as white, and they don’t at the moment. The other is positive discrimination – while POC are negatively judged because of their race anything that helps redress that balance is good. Frankly as (largely) straight white men we don’t have enough experience to understand the issues fully. Given a few days of having pejoratives flung at us based only on colour or sexual preference I think people’s opinions would change.

Mike

Being critical of a movement is not synonymous with not recognizing or wanting to address socio-cultural issue within certain communities. And this is why so many people barring the loudest and most obnoxious do not support BLM. Being labeled and disparaged as anti-this or anti-that just because one does not support the ideological underpinning of a movement is not a long-term strategy – but so be it. BLM is a radical, left wing, neo-marxist movement with a considerable militant and anarchist base – this is not disputed. Being labeled a racist or whatever because I do not align with their values or mission has nothing to do with my views on social and racial injustice.

Juan Manuel

I am not totally sure fighting fire with fire is the answer. Being ”unfair” with ”one side” is ”fair”? Until when? Just my two cents.

Juan Manuel

Please, Simon, flatter me by thinking I had indeed read the previous comments (smile). It’s precisely after considering them that my concerns raise. Still. Hence my point.
Thanks for the civil debate.

Juan Manuel

Thanks!

Penn

Thank you, Simon, for this clear, frank, and civil discussion. Implicit in it is what might usefully be more explicit: that American racism assaults individuals of color to different degrees, and in this respect can be addressed individually (the Meals on Wheels example); but it also assaults the entire society by enthralling them to a caste system, as Isabel Wilkinson has argued at length. The caste system can’t be addressed individually, but systemically. The sorts of issues as to discrimination, revenge, and rights that are germane here, it seems to me, are very much akin to those we’ve encountered in trying to rid ourselves of Covid. I wonder if looking at this double set of normative demands doesn’t clarify some of the previous discussion.

Dante

Really nice to see PS’s ability to dip into this pool even a little bit. More proof that the worlds of tailoring and high-end craftsmanship don’t have to be out of touch with economic reality.

For those of you who find these discussions or approaches to the issue uncomfortable, I encourage you to try not to immediately bristle at what you’re reading, and instead take the time to consider that the life experiences of others may be this drastically different from your own, whether it be because they grew up under a different government, ethnicity, or economic status. What some may see as “positive discrimination” is in fact (in many cases, definitely not in all) a step toward the equality many of you are so vocal about wanting to see.

A (arguably) radical but very apt quote by Franklin Leonard sums it up nicely:

“When you are accustomed to privilege, equality looks like oppression.”

Apologies if this comes across in a condescending way, it’s really not meant to, but I can see how it might at first. I’m hoping this can be an opportunity for actual constructive dialogues to take place instead of those on either “side” immediately putting up their guard. Like Greg says, we must make room for nuance and listening to each other’s experiences.

Best,
Dante

anon

“This is why I was more interested in the theme of how brands deal with supporting controversial work, given the commercial motive will always be to not do so.”

Of course taking an unpopular moral stand or even an unnecessary one on a controversial issue will cost you money. The interesting questions are: 1.) to what degree will avoiding the issue to the greatest extent possible seen as taking a side? and 2.) *which* side of the issue is the unpopular one?

So without getting into my opinion of the underlying issue, it seems clear to me that we live in a culture where ritual denunciations are whiteness are expected and where not offered, guilt is presumed. In other words, far from being a heroic financial self-sacrifice to come out in support of BLM, it’s more or less required of all who wish to stay in business.

Barrie

The great Thomas Sowell has studied the outcomes of positive discrimination programmes his entire, and very long, life, and concluded that not only do they not work, they actually do great harm to those they are supposed to benefit. He has a wealth of research to back up his claims , and has stated, devastatingly, that by every available metric, the life outcomes of coloured people in the USA improved slowly (from a very low base) every year until the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, after which they have, by every available metric, declined. Moreover, such programmes can inflict the deeper wound of robbing people of their dignity. These are inconvenient truths for those, usually decent and well-intentioned, but occasionally just opportunistic, individuals or organizations who seek to help people from so-called disadvantaged backgrounds. So inconvenient that they are often ignored or denied, and the few that dare to raise them, usually dismissed or caricatured as uncaring, or even racist. A reviewer who hadn’t checked the jacket of the book by Sowell that he was reviewing, dismissed it as being typical of the blinkered view of a white academic – Sowell is in fact black and came from a very disadvantaged background himself! It is very hard for some people to accept, and goes against everything we are taught these days, that often the best way to help is to do no harm yourself, call out discrimination when you see it, and pass those good habits and attitudes on to your children. But otherwise just leave people alone.

Peter Hall
Miles

Hi Barrie,

Reader to reader here, i’d like to echo the request for articles and perhaps datasets. In my own readings of Sowell, I have found many of his arguments to be logically sound. That said, the data he draws from often paints a different picture than his own analysis. For instance, the pools are often narrower than he lets on — particularly as he looks at poverty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I don’t think Sowell’s approach is disingenuous. But it’s certainly worth a pause for careful consideration and critique.

So I don’t think you can dismiss positive discrimination so broadly. Even Sowell, in his “Affirmative Action around the World,” reluctantly admits that it could be valuable for a short time and place. All this means that what Greg L./NMWA are doing could have a place too. They are not committing a lifetime of resources to this cause. They are choosing it for a moment in time to get behind. That seems noble enough to me.

Miles

Penn

“The great Thomas Sowell” is a right-wing economist of long standing, who was a strong Trump supporter and who stated before the recent American election that a win by Biden might be cataclysmic. Of course he came to the conclusions that Barrie lists. His research begins with the assumptions of his mentors Milton and Rose Friedman (the namesakes of his current professorship)—I don’t know if those names have the same resonance for non-US readers of PS that they may (should) have for US readers, as an index of Sowell’s point of view over the past fifty or more years.

Jackson Heart

I’ve followed Sowell for some time and he has very good arguments, but what he leaves out of them many times is the fact that under the New Deal in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s in the US, white Americans greatly benefited from many government programs, including for jobs and training, housing and education, all of which formed the basis of much of the wealth in America and created the middle class and is largely responsible for the black-white wealth gap today as most Americans’ wealth is built on their homes and property. Black people were largely excluded from these programs for many reasons, often with deals made by the government with Southerners (the old Confederate States) but also with tactics like redlining. In the 60’s when African Americans demanded to be part of these programs, all of a sudden the long living trope – that governmental programs for them were hand-outs and hurt them and robbed them of dignity – was put into play. A glaring fallacy is committed when you fail to mention the “hand-outs” given to white America in large numbers to the exclusion of black Americans. Then to describe any redress of that horrible one-sided system as discrimination against white people is nothing more than absurd – almost as absurd as insinuating that Civil Rights (equal voting and dismantling of discriminatory and racist policies) hurt black people. Sowell glosses over this as it’s often inconvenient to his assertions. This is the real inconvenient truth.

Jon Bromfield

All this has been more than made up by the past 50 years of “affirmative action,” and other forms of legal discrimination against whites. In my profession local, state, and federal governments have “set-asides” contracts I am not allowed to even bid.

Let me add I have worked for “disadvantaged” minority companies the owners of which had far more privileged backgrounds than I. Oddly enough, their upper managements were all white.

Gaurav Mehra

are you doing anything for East Indian owned brands / shops?

Jon Bromfield

Let me be very blunt. I am one generation removed from dirt-poor, ignorant and exploited white Appalachian coal miners. Any group that promotes “white privilege,” like BLM, gets no jack from me and neither does any company that supports them. I earned everything I have by my hard work, intelligence, and perseverance. I feel absolutely no guilt or responsibility for the condition of minorities in the US, who should get down on their knees every day, kiss the ground, and give humble thanks to God they were born in the United States.

Peter Law

I could not agree more that everyone born in the United States should give thanks for the privilege of citizenship that we all share, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Two hundred and fifty years after the Declaration of Independence it is still a special thing in this world to be self governed by mutually agreed upon laws, and hundreds of thousands to millions of people risk their lives every year trying to come to our country to escape the opposite situation. Shame on the people who tried to upturn our free electoral process as much as the people who denounce our country as systemically unjust and corrupt.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Off topic! Do you have the contact details for D’Avino shirtmaker in Naples. The email address you supplied in the article you wrote about him is not active. [email protected].

Cheers
James

Barrie

Sorry for the late response to your request. A good introduction to Thomas Sowell would be his interviews on Youtube, particularly those with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institute. That will give you the basics. If you want more, I’d recommend ‘Affirmative action around the World’ and ‘Discrimination and Disparities’.

Sowell basically questions the idea that affirmative action/positive discrimination does any good at all, and suggests that not enough thought is given to the long-term consequences of such programmes. For example, a menswear company may invest in a BAME only apprenticeship scheme, with the best of intentions, aimed perhaps at promoting diversity on the Row. And it may indeed yield some success; but, on a macro level, these initiatives generally have a very high drop-out rate, often leaving those for whom it didn’t work out in a worse position than if they hadn’t joined at all.

The other point is that of dignity. How much thought is given to how it must feel to be given an opportunity and to know that you were not selected on merit, but on account of your skin pigmentation, sex, or socio-economic group? This is something privileged groups, who normally set up such schemes, will never experience and therefore are unlikely to appreciate.

Sowell supports everything he says with evidence from a variety of countries and contexts, but the emotional attraction of charitable endeavours and leveling up initiatives is very powerful. Basically, most people want to be good, and do good for others, and anything that gives them the feeling that they are doing that will be embraced, and perhaps not sufficiently scrutinized.

Sometimes it takes a personal experience to dislodge such firmly held emotionally grounded beliefs. For me it happened years ago when I was teaching at a university. I had a profoundly disabled girl in the class, who, despite a terrific attitude and great diligence, physically couldn’t, even with an amanuensis, keep up with the other students in writing exercises. When it came to the end-of-term exam, I told her discreetly that I would give her some extra time, and would stay behind with her until she had finished. She reacted with a controlled fury that startled me (she was normally exceedingly polite). She insisted that she be given exactly the same test and exactly the same time as the other students.

I had thought I was being kind, but I had grievously offended her. What right did I have to do that?

I am not claiming this anecdote relates to everything in this article or this thread, but it is a good example of how good intentions can sometimes do more harm than good. I blush with shame when I recall it, which I do whenever I read or hear about positive discrimination initiatives.

Jackson

Do you think white people in America who were given money, subsidies, housing, loans for businesses and job-training as “charitable” handouts by the government during the New Deal Affirmative Action, to the overwhelming exclusion of black people, feel bad that these government freebies formed the basis of theirs, their children’s and grand-childrens’ wealth today? I say no. Many of them had chosen to pick up the ladders they were given behind them or destroyed those same ladders for other people that propelled their ancestors into the middle and upper middle class. And it’s a terrible assumption to assume that someone who was picked for anything who is black is not also very talented and that all white people who are chosen for anything are always talented. The point is that many talented black people are excluded and overlooked frequently with respect to all kinds of endeavors and many other people’s preferences are to continue playing on an uneven playing field because it benefits them personally. After centuries of racial discrimination, you cannot wake up one morning and declare “ok, I am in a comfortable lead, it’s over and everything should be fair starting now…let’s start the race.

Jay Weir

Hi Simon- my wife and I donate throughout the year ourselves, and I cannot think of an occurrence wherein my purchase was related, or not, to a company’s charitable donations. That said, I would prefer a company asking me if I wanted a percentage of my purchase donated to a cause of my own liking, asking for its’ name, or letting me choose from a list, then sending some acknowledgment that the donation did occur. Quite frankly, here in the US a lot of these donation schemes are little more than a shakedown (donate or we attack you) and it has put some shade on corporate donations. Sadly.

Mattias

”People of color” (what a horrible way to describe people, by the way), like myself, wont be better of in the long run by blaming ”the white man” for all the problems in our societies. If you accept positive discrimination as a valid means you automaticly accept that you yourself is a racist (because you as a white male are a part of the oppressive system). Thats just silly, isnt it? The other way around, they say, it is your racism that creates social unjustice, oppression and police brutality. You are the problem.

I believe that NMWA has good intentions, but thats not enough, in the same way praying to the rain god wont make it rain and creating the Soviet union didnt create heaven on earth for the proletarians of the world. If youre wrong it doesnt matter how big your heart is.

With that being said I love your work Simon and Im allways excited to read your latest posts.

Juan Manuel

Nicely put, Mattias.

zo

would you say the same about positive discrimination against women in the workplace? is it completely OK to have an all male panel of directors/chiefs? after all they’ve worked hard to get there and its not their fault the women are stuck at the reception desk…

Alexander

For the record, my degree is in Economics and I work in Politics, so I feel only somewhat comfortable addressing this (I also happen to Latino and the son of immigrants in the US).

I’ll start by saying that though “Defund” is the title, as I meet with groups advocating for “Defund” what they really mean is re-invest in education, re-invest in housing, re-invest in health care, and re-invest social workers. Many of the folks that push “Defund” have actually been calling for re-investment for years, but few listened….with Defund, people listen and enter the conversation (I will not say whether I agree with the strategy, but merely wish to point it out).

I suppose the one thing that confuses me about the very strong feeling against positive discrimination is that it seems to come from conflating the issue.

I suspect that few would disagree with Positive Discrimination for the elderly, or for those with physical or mental impairments. In the US and other parts of the world, for example, public transit will have seats reserved for the elderly and those with a physical impairment. In other words, positive discrimination is not fundamentally a bad thing.

I would also suspect, that some may also use positive forms of gender discrimination – helping a female colleague carrying something where they otherwise may not help a male colleague.

Again, I illustrate those two points mainly to show that positive discrimination in and of itself is not bad. It seems like what people have an issue with isn’t really the idea of positive discrimination, unless they also object to the above two points, rather with positive discrimination on the basis of race. So, the racial component is what people find objectionable.

If individuals have an objection to positive discrimination based on race, I’d welcome them to examine why that is.

I would suspect that few would disagree that race plays a role in life, and that, in the US in particular, it helped one particular race accumulate land and wealth at the expense of another. That in the lifetime of some readers black citizens were not able to vote in the US, or attend school with others AND that those two circumstance had a very real impact (families are maybe 2 generations removed from those experiences). Given that resources are scarce and founder effects are real, one could see how this could make it difficult for non-white individuals.

Finally, I’ll just say this, I do believe that positive discrimination is useful, but I also think critics have a point about it’s implementation. Particularly the lack of support provided to those accepted to prestigious universities. I digress though. I am not looking to enter a prolonged debate, this is not the place for it, just wanted to offer my two cents.

I applaud NMWA and their efforts.