Dear Clients and Friends of Greenleaf Trust,

Each month we send our newsletter titled “Perspectives” to our clients and friends of Greenleaf Trust. Almost always, the content is about the economy, financial markets, wealth management retirement and financial planning. Today it is important that we talk honestly about a national crisis that has plagued our country for four hundred years. Race is a topic we talk around but rarely about. As a nation, we are uncomfortable with the topic and attempts at national dialogues have been muted and almost always done in ways not to make the majority uncomfortable. The result is that the festering wound of racism grows under the skin and is never brought into the daylight that allows it to heal. This week we saw a murder take place before our very eyes. Once again the victim was a person of color and the perpetrator was white and in a police uniform. The protests have been national in scope, long, loud and persistent. Have we finally witnessed a violation of human and civil rights so obvious that we as a nation are ready to look inward, accept our individual and collective roles in the perpetuation of the condition we are in and begin the long and arduous role of eliminating racism in our country?

Our colleagues of color at Greenleaf Trust are not OK. Our fellow Americans of color are not OK and we as a collective nation are not OK. We are wounded, angry, sad and bitterly disappointed. For Americans of color this is a continuation of what has occurred for four hundred years. There has never been a national apology for slavery from the floor of the Senate, House of Representatives or President of the United States. We demanded that Japan and Germany apologize for the atrocities of World War II, but have never apologized for the horrors of slavery in our own country. Our post Civil War history is replete with continual legislatively imposed racially focused attempts to treat people of color as less than white Americans. Restrictive voting laws, segregated public schools, segregated universities, segregated armed forces, lack of access to higher education, lack of access to the G.I. bill, racially motivated hiring practices, red lining mortgage and lending practices and the list goes on and on. What is clear is that all of these were institutional attempts to limit, discriminate and deprive people of color the advantages and privileges that white people in our country have enjoyed for generations. Many white Americans want Americans of color to move beyond race. As a country, we have a tendency to want the victims of racism to solve the problem rather than those that created the problem. People of color didn’t create slavery in America nor any of the legislative practices that deprived and denied them of their civil rights, white people did. So how do we heal? We start by standing with Americans of color in every sense of the term. We start by accepting some real, and sometimes, hard truths. Everyone’s lives are tough from time to time – and some more than others – but if we are to move forward, we have to recognize that for white people, the color of their skin is not what has made their lives tough. If we are to move forward, we have to embrace the knowledge that what we were taught in our history classes in school was not our entire history. The collective history of the Jim Crow south, and all of the legislatively imposed practices in our country that deprived people of color economic, political and social opportunities that white people have always taken for granted have contributed significantly to huge disparities in wealth and health in our country.

For some, this commentary will be uncomfortable, but that is why we find ourselves in this national crisis. If our country is to be great, it has to be great for all. If we find ourselves being distracted by the looting and physical destruction caused by some protesters, we will not get to the depth of the festering wound that racism has wrought to our country. Our team stands with our colleagues of color and all Americans of color. While we can’t know the depth of hurt and despair felt at this moment in time for many, we are committed to getting better and to doing better to make certain that as our country gets better, it gets better for every American and that no one is left behind. We are fighting a pandemic and we will win that fight, but it would be a national shame to win the war against the pandemic while failing to commit to eradicating the plague of racism that has existed here for over four hundred years. We are living in a difficult time in our country’s history. If we truly believe in the concept of American exceptionalism, now is a good time to live it.

William D. Johnston