Pepperoni or Racist Pizza—Papa John’s is no Aberration

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

When Papa John’s Founder and former CEO John Schnatter got called out for using the N word in a conference call last May, he knew he had a problem. There were calls from some activists to boycott Papa John’s. The company’s stock nosedived. The marketing firm that he was doing business with and was on the conference call dropped Papa John’s like a cold pizza. The company with blinding speed did the usual mea culpa that corporations, have become masterful at. Schnatter quickly followed with his own mea culpa claiming that he was not a racist, and that racism was a bad thing.

That’s the point, racism, at least the overt, in your face, old race baiting stuff is bad for business. Stocks drop, customers scream and howl, there’s talk of boycotts and protests. It’s the perfect horrible storm for corporations; bad for the bottom line and bad for the image. Corporations know it and have moved faster than ever to give their racial miscreants the boot out the door.

So, then why do some corporate officials continue to put their foot in their mouth, make racist cracks or digs, and then must back pedal fast when the inevitable happens—they are caught red-faced. Papa John’s gives a partial answer to that. It drew raised eyebrows last November when it lambasted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged namby pamby stance toward the NFL players anthem protest. The blast came from none other than Schnatter. He demanded that Goodell and the NFL owners crack down on the players, or else. The “or else” was that the company would drop its official sponsorship of the League. To show that it meant business it pulled some ads from some NFL games.

This rant and gesture drew loud applause from some racist groups that hailed Papa John’s for standing up to the League and Blacks. Company officials quickly disavowed hem, but the message was clear. Papa John’s was one corporation that was prepared to go to the mat against Black protest.

Now while Papa John’s outburst was the public exception in the corporate world to the protests and the NFL, his public disdain for black NFL football racial protests almost certainly was privately shared among many corporate officials. Many of whom including Schnatter and a good number of NFL owners endorsed and gave handsomely to Trump’s presidential campaign. When Trump picked his well-publicized brawl with the NFL over the protests, and demanded they stop, or else, he spoke for many inside corporate boardrooms. There is more to this.

Corporate executives, as the Papa’s John’s officials, loudly swear that they don’t discriminate. They routinely issue flowery press releases, brochures, assorted handouts and annual stockholder reports that tout their commitment to employee diversity. On paper, they appear to be following Federal Equal Opportunity guidelines, have a well-established program for hiring, training, and promoting of minorities. They have black faces in visible corporate management positions,

The racial back pats that corporations give themselves are not total puffery. Blacks are not barred or discouraged from participating in company social functions. Some are included in their company’s discussions of important business decisions. Some even join the country clubs where much of America’s corporate business is discussed and deal making is done. Few corporate officials would dare tell white managerial candidates that they can’t hire them because they must hire a (less qualified) woman or a minority. Many corporations don’t repeat the phony line that they can’t find a qualified black and have some sort of minority recruiting program.

But the number of Blacks that crack the corporate glass ceiling tells a story less of corporate progress than corporate stagnation, and worse, a hard-racial ceiling. Countless racial discrimination and harassment lawsuits by Blacks against corporations that read like a who’s of America’s top corporations. The overwhelming majority of corporate senior officials and managers are white males. Black managers are grossly underrepresented in top management echelons, and as the parade of lawsuits indicate, are still paid less, and are promoted much more slowly, if at all, than whites.

At many companies, Blacks are still regarded by their corporate peers as pariahs. They tell horrid stories of white corporate managers and employees who openly grumble that Blacks are: lazy, undisciplined, and poorly organized, incompetent, less skilled, affirmative action hires, possess bad attitudes, are outspoken, and rebellious, and quick to blame management, or white employees for their problems and failures.

The bitter truth is that it still takes lawsuits, boycott threats, selective buying campaigns and calls for stock divestment by blacks to compel many corporations to hire and promote more blacks. Schnatter and Papa John’s officials profusely apologized for the flack they took for his unguarded moment racist slur. But for many Blacks the corporate door remains slammed shut and this is a far bigger problem than being repelled at a slice of Papa John’s lousy pizza.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.



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