Note: Even as I finished writing this article, news of another mass shooting was coming in. This time children and educators, in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Texas, were killed at school. We cannot even grieve one mass shooting without being interrupted by the next one. This is not an article about gun control, but please know that JSTC and all Adasina portfolios are and always have been, weapons free.
For the last couple of years, every time I write an update to the Adasina community, there is new difficult news we’re all reeling from. This month was no exception.
I sat down to write about the new Civil & Voting Rights screen Adasina developed and integrated into our public equities strategy. But, it seemed insincere to talk about the work we’re doing without addressing the pain all around us. Living through a pandemic, rampant and deadly racism in the open, and an attack on bodily autonomy – it’s all exhausting. Let’s explore how all of these issues connect, and then move to action.
If you’re here to learn about the new investment screen, and want “just the facts,” feel free to skip to the end of this article or read the press release.
Buffalo, Loss, and the Racist Systems that Underpin the Tragedy
My heart is breaking for the entire Buffalo community and I am sure I’m not alone. This act of domestic terrorism was, by the alleged shooter’s own admission, intended to inspire fear in the Black community and tragically exemplifies how current white supremacy builds on the legacy of anti-Black racist systems in the United States.
A white supremacist, drunk with hate after steeping in (current) racist vitriol1, easily accessed a gun, went to the only grocery store in a historically and predominantly Black community, and killed our elders, our aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers, deacons, teachers, even our own security guards. This awful tragedy is the result of a network of both current and historical systems that codify oppression for some and freedom for others, along racial lines. Those systems include:
Racist redlining policies legally ended in 1968, but the legacy of racial division and disinvestment in communities of color continues to keep many neighborhoods largely segregated along racial lines; “nearly all formerly redlined zones in the country are still disproportionately Black, Latino or Asian compared with their surrounding metropolitan area.”2
These previously redlined neighborhoods have higher poverty rates and poorer health outcomes3, and these communities tend to be poorly resourced by municipal governments, and underserved by large businesses. Sadly, the grocery store targeted in Buffalo was both the only grocery store and served as a community gathering place in the neighborhood4.
National and state governments’ ferocious protection of Americans’ “freedom” to easily buy and own firearms has a profoundly racist history going all the way back to the creation of the Second Amendment,5 to ensure protection for slave owners against uprisings from the numerous Black people they enslaved.
The word “freedom” is often used as an American rallying cry. But, the experience of true freedom in America is more aspirational than actual. Real freedom would mean that every person, every family, every community has easy access to the resources they need to thrive, and the freedom to gather at church, go to school, or shop for groceries without fear of violence.
Supreme Court, Reproductive Rights & Bodily Autonomy
Freedom (or the lack thereof) dominates US political and civil rights news as well, with the Supreme Court indicating they may roll back reproductive rights by overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion rights.
My first reaction upon seeing the news was a deep sense of disappointment; my immediate second reaction was exhaustion.
Bodily autonomy is a basic human right.
Women have a right to bodily autonomy.
Women of color and women living in poverty – those who will be disproportionately impacted by this potential Supreme Court decision – have a right to bodily autonomy.
Abortion, birth control, privacy, and bodily autonomy are rights that should be available to all people who can get pregnant.
Politicians working to overturn Roe v. Wade call themselves “pro-life” and yet these are the very same politicians who overwhelmingly resist gun control legislation that would save tens of thousands of lives each year.
New Civil & Voting Rights Investment Screen
A common response to situations that illuminate a profound social injustice is “vote.” If only it were that easy! Between the structure of the U.S. Senate disproportionally allocating voting power to white Americans6 and the current legislative efforts aimed at reducing voting ease and access for communities of color, including Black communities specifically7, fair representation feels out of reach.
The right to vote is under threat. Voting alone isn’t a viable solution for protecting the rights of historically disenfranchised communities when their right to participate in the democratic process is restricted. This issue is not a historical one, it is current and happening now. Last year, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (H.R.4), which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives did not pass in the Senate. And this year, a second attempt to pass the bill, attached to the Freedom to Vote Act (S.2747), also failed to pass in the Senate.
Which brings me, finally, to what I sat down to write about at the outset and is actually quite related to both the racial justice and reproductive rights issues above. Adasina added a new Racial Justice screen to our Social Justice Investment Criteria – a Civil & Voting Rights screen. Using research and metrics provided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), we now identify and exclude8 from our investment portfolios companies that disproportionately make political contributions to campaigns that oppose civil and voting rights legislation.
Corporate donations to political campaigns play a significant role in systemic racial injustice, and we cannot ignore the role that many companies play in dismantling voting rights and our ability as citizens to respond to the world around us by voting for a better future. We know that investors with social justice values want ever-increasing alignment between their investment portfolios and those values – with this new addition to our investment screening, Adasina is expanding our ability to meet that call. For more details on the new Civil & Voting Rights screen, read the full press release.
What Can Investors Do?
Adasina Investors: You’re all set. The Adasina Social Justice All Cap Global ETF (JSTC) and Adasina separately managed accounts (SMAs) are the first to use this newly available data, so we’ve already taken care of this for you. Companies that violate our Civil & Voting Rights screen have been excluded from the JSTC ETF and Adasina equity SMAs.
Institutional Investors: We will update the Adasina Racial Justice Impact Dataset with Civil & Voting Rights data in the near future. If you hold companies flagged for violations on this issue, leverage your power as an investor to demand that the company change its political spending. You can also choose to exclude companies from your portfolio based on this issue.
Individual Investors: Ask your financial advisor about the political spending of companies in your investment portfolio. Consider excluding those companies that undermine civil and voting rights, or conduct shareholder engagement to urge those companies to change their political spending.
I know that all the current events – so many of them targeting already impacted communities – can feel bleak and exhausting. But change is possible. I encourage you to do what you can, with the political, time, and financial resources available to you.
- Samuel L. Perry & Philip S. Gorski, “With the Buffalo massacre, white Christian nationalism strikes again,” Washington Post (May 20, 2022).
- Ryan Best & Elena Mejía, “The Lasting Legacy Of Redlining,” FiveThirtyEight.com (February 9, 2022).
- Judith Garber, “Racist redlining policies still have an impact on health,” LOWN Institute (September 06, 2021).
- Pia Sarkar & Noreen Nasir, “Buffalo Shooting Leaves Neighborhood Without A Grocery Store,” AP News (May 18, 2022).
- Dave Davies, “Historian Uncovers The Racist Roots Of The 2nd Amendment,” NPR (June, 02, 2021).
- Jonathan Chait, “The Senate is America’s Most Structurally Racist Institution,” Intelligencer (August, 10, 2020).
- James Doubek & Steve Inskeep, “Black Church Leaders In Georgia On The Importance Of ‘Souls To The Polls‘,” NPR (March 22, 2021).
- NAACP, “NAACP,” NAACP.org (2022).