I used to shop at Home Depot. It was my go-to store for DIY projects. Turned a hollow door and two sawhorses into a desk. Put up shelves. Made a birdhouse. My feelings of satisfaction with a job done well enough extended to the hardware store. It was a fun place just to roam the aisles.
Then, on Monday, I learned that Home Depot had donated thousands of dollars to the political campaign of Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.). She’s one of the Republicans whose campaign advertisements have echoed the white-supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.
The wacky notion — that a scheme is afoot in this country to replace White people with people of color — allegedly inspired a white supremacist to kill 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo.
And inspired another white supremacist to kill 23 people in a predominantly Hispanic area in El Paso.
And another to kill 11 more people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
And still another to kill nine more people at a Black church in Charleston, S.C.
So, I no longer shop at Home Depot. No matter how convenient and well stocked.
The store that I frequented, in Prince George’s County, employed a lot of African Americans and had great customer service. But the corporation patronizes a politician that promotes a deadly, racist message. By shopping at the store, I was unwittingly helping to underwrite the very kind of propaganda that could get me killed. That is not a business model I can support.
In the aftermath of the killings in Buffalo, many are asking what can be done besides sending thoughts and prayers? Join protest marches, sure. Attend anti-racist meetings, of course. And by all means vote. But you can also stop supporting corporations that support politicians who ferment racial hate.
The list of those companies that supported Stefanik was an eye-opener. Many of them also supported racial justice causes, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. “These companies, including Anheuser Busch and Walgreens, made vocal pledges to use their resources to combat racism while at the same time bankrolling a politician with a message widely seen as racist,” as The Post put it.
They cannot have it both ways.
Comcast NBC Universal’s PAC donated $10,000 to the “Elise for Congress,” political action committee. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, chief executive Brian Roberts said the media giant would spend $100 million over three years to help fight racism and injustice.
General Motors gave the Stefanik campaign $2,500. Spokesman Pat Morrissey said the automaker has committed $22 million so far to groups that promote inclusion and racial justice, far beyond the $10 million originally promised.
What is the thinking? Spend millions on programs to foster diversity and inclusion — while funding a message that can result in those newly included people being taken out with gunfire?
Fortunately, there are other choices worth exploring — different automobile companies to consider, different TV service providers to contemplate, different brands of beers and different hardware stores.
I have been pleasantly surprised so far by what I learned about Lowe’s, for instance, Home Depot’s top competitor.
Lowe’s has a Black CEO, Marvin Ellison, and from what I can tell he doesn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth on race. He’s one of only four Black Fortune 500 CEOs. And he says he’s tired of seeing CEOs and other business leaders pledge to fight racism but do little.
Or just make things worse.
“Sometimes, you have to decide to talk less and do more,” Ellison said at a virtual speaker series hosted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in 2020. “I’m very, very appreciative that there’s all this dialogue happening out there, but I didn’t have to see the horrific murder of George Floyd to understand there was racial injustice in America. I live it every day.”
Some would argue that Home Depot’s bottom line will not be adversely affected by my decision. Individual boycotts aren’t even noticed, they say. You need strategic, well-organized efforts to make a difference. Such as the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to protest the mistreatment of Rosa Parks.
“Boycotts can play a crucial role in political change, but not when they serve only as tests of individual integrity,” Zephyr Teachout, an associate professor at Fordham Law School, wrote in a 2020 issue of the Atlantic.
But what’s so bad about a little integrity test? Might be just the thing to spur greater political action.
In the comment section of the Post article about Stefanik’s corporate support, a reader noted a personal boycott of restaurants owned by religious and anti-democratic extremists, and posed this question:
“Would you be willing to hand wash your dishes for several weeks if you knew it might save 11 lives in Pittsburgh, 23 lives in El Paso, and 10 lives in Buffalo?” Could you pass that test?
I just have to bypass my neighborhood Home Depot and drive a few extra miles.
Ellison’s stewardship makes it easy to contemplate. When he took over at Lowe’s in 2018, the company had only eight Black employees at the vice president level or higher — a number he was determined to increase.
“I didn’t need social unrest as a CEO for me to understand it was an issue,” he said in the NRF speech.
Two years later, Lowe’s had two Black executive vice presidents, two Black senior vice presidents and 11 Black vice presidents. Two of the company’s top executive roles — chief information officer and chief brand and marketing officer — were held by women. Another Black woman was promoted to executive vice president of human resources.
Now, about 55 percent of its executive leaders and 60 percent of its board are women or ethnically diverse, a better reflection of the company’s customer base. Without fanfare, Ellison also invested $55 million in minority-owned businesses, about $25 million of that in grants to help minority-owned small businesses recover from the pandemic.
Coincidentally, Ellison had also worked at Home Depot early in his journey to becoming head of Lowe’s. Perhaps if he had stayed with the company, I would have stayed, too.