'Talk is cheap': Ariel Investments pres. on corporate America's responsibility to fight inequality

Mellody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, joins “Squawk Box” to discuss the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd and how the business community can make strides to address racial inequality in the United States.

Wall Street CEOs expressed horror, anger and empathy in staff emails and messages posted to social media as protests continued to roil U.S. cities in the week after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The May 25 death of Floyd, who had been handcuffed when a police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparked introspection and calls to fight racism by the biggest American financial firms. Floyd’s death followed the recent deaths of other black citizens including Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Here’s what they said:

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

This week’s terrible events in Minneapolis, together with too many others occurring around our country, are tragic and heartbreaking. Let us be clear — we are watching, listening and want every single one of you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination wherever and however it exists.

This reality, coupled with the COVID crisis, highlights the inequities black and other diverse communities have and continue to face every day and it strengthens our resolve to do more as individuals, as a firm, and in our communities.

Now, more than ever, each of us must be inclusive in our work and in the neighborhoods where we operate. And above all else, we are here for all of you.

Mark Mason, CFO of Citigroup

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

Those words were George Floyd’s last. In a video recorded by a bystander, he can be heard saying them, pleading for his life, 10 times. Maybe more. While a police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. While three other officers stood by and WATCHED.

Like many of you, I have watched that video of his death with a combination of horror, disgust and anger. And over subsequent nights, I have watched that anger spill out onto the streets of Minneapolis and many other American cities with devastating consequences. I have debated whether I should speak out. But after some emotional conversations with my family earlier this week, I realized I had to.

In fact, we all need to.

Even though I’m the CFO of a global bank, the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are reminders of the dangers Black Americans like me face in living our daily lives. Despite the progress the United States has made, Black Americans are too often denied basic privileges that others take for granted. I am not talking about the privileges of wealth, education or job opportunities. I’m talking about fundamental human and civil rights and the dignity and respect that comes with them. I’m talking about something as mundane as going for a jog.

Racism continues to be at the root of so much pain and ugliness in our society – from the streets of Minneapolis to the disparities inflicted by COVID-19. As long as that’s true, America’s twin ideals of freedom and equality will remain out of reach.

I’m proud to work at Citi, an organization that cherishes diversity and inclusion and is willing to stand up for those values when they are threatened, whether it’s working to close the gender pay gap in our industry or calling out the violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville.

These systemic problems will not go away until we confront them head on. So we must continue to speak up and speak out whenever we witness hatred, racism or injustice. I know I will – and I hope you will too.

In addition to speaking out and in an effort to aid in the fight to address these issues, my wife and I have decided to make donations to three organizations fighting injustice and inequality — NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Advancement Project, and Color of Change.

I hope you will join us.

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