Black Santas, Hanukkah menorahs, Feliz Navidad: Woke is good business

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Republicans think they’re economic geniuses, but too many are hostile to immigration and diversity. That’s a drag on US firms trying to find workers and make money.

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I saw a TV ad for Target gift cards recently and realized I was watching it as if I were an own-the-libs conservative (which, dear reader, I assure you I am not). “Woke! Woke!” I thought as conventional Christmas cheer gave way to a Hanukkah menorah, a Black Santa, “Feliz Navidad” and a 100% agnostic snowflake. 

This is diversity, equity and inclusion at its most American: a giant company trying to maximize profit by marketing to every possible potential customer. Whatever your race, religion or country of origin, Target wants your money. Love dogs? Feeling nostalgic about the past? Target’s got a gift card for you.

Diversity is a foundational national and cultural value for me and tens of millions of other Americans – but it’s also a proven capitalist value. This is an underutilized argument for immigration advocates, educators, business leaders, patriots and ethnic food lovers as diversity goals come under challenge, and sometimes attack, from conservatives trying to recreate a country that no longer exists.  

Racial, economic and gender diversity make “organizations from Wall Street to Main Street more profitable, productive, financially sound and responsive to customers,” Ronald A. Crutcher wrote in a 2018 USA TODAY column when he was president of the University of Richmond.

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Trump made GOP anti-immigrant 

Last summer, as the Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments over whether public universities may consider race in admissions, “major American business enterprises” from Accenture to Zazzle elaborated on Crutcher’s point in a 47-page brief citing over 40 authorities. The brief documented “a whole extensive, rigorous peer-reviewed literature that diverse groups of people actually perform at a higher level,” North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park told the court.

The Republican brand is business-friendly, but conservatives often draw the line at corporations they consider “woke.” GOP lawmakers in Georgia punished Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines for ending discounts to the National Rifle Association after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Congressional Republicans tried to punish Major League Baseball when it pulled the All-Star Game from Georgia over voting restrictions. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis punished Disney – famous for its popular “Gay Days“ – for opposing a law limiting classroom discussion of LGBTQ issues. He says a new federal law protecting same-sex marriage could encroach on religious liberty and ”there was certainly no need” for it. And he’s among many Republicans working to restrict what teachers and corporate trainers can say about race.

Perhaps most damaging, former President Donald Trump’s antipathy to immigration is now widespread in the GOP. DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, for instance, are unilaterally busing and flying asylum seekers to other states to show how tough they are. That’s even though the results of less immigration include less diversity and a shrunken workforce.

The latest Labor Department report showed 10.3 million U.S. job openings in October – high enough to drive up wages and inflation as companies search for scarce workers. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell attributes the scarcity in part to “a plunge in net immigration.” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh calls the U.S. immigration system “a threat to our economy.” 

On the wrong side of the facts: Trump and the GOP are making every bad economic choice possible

The crisis of the moment is what to do about more than 600,000 “Dreamers” brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. President Barack Obama created a stopgap program in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but Congress never gave them legal status. Now a court challenge to DACAthreatens to upend their lives and the U.S. economy.

Ending the program “means that an estimated 22,000 jobs would be lost every month for two years. That is roughly 1,000 job losses per business day at a time when the U.S. economy already faces significant workforce shortages,” dozens of corporate giants, business groups, education associations and others told congressional leaders in a letter.

GOP donors made similar economic arguments to party leaders in June.

Democrats have said that protecting the Dreamers is a priority for them before Christmas, and a new bipartisan compromise is in the works. Its prospects are iffy but the rush is imperative. That’s because Republicans take over the House in January and aspiring Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledged months ago that “amnesty is a nonstarter. It won’t be taken up by a House Republican majority.”

Diversity makes America great 

I make no excuses for my chronic case of “woke mind virus,” as Twitter owner and born-again conservative troll Elon Musk calls it. I know Michael Jordan took grief for joking years ago that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” But it’s true. They do. And so do people of different colors, ethnicities and religions, and people who do not fit into the mom-dad-buddy-and-sis mold that some believers want to force on everyone. 

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Last spring I went to a concert, the first I had attended since the pandemic hit, and these were the soloists onstage playing a Bach concerto for three violins: An Asian American, a Ukrainian American and Carmen Lavada Johnson-Pájaro, who is a quarter African American, a quarter Cherokee and half Colombian.

As the full impact of that lineup sank in, tears came to my eyes. Seriously, is America a great country or what? 

Now go buy some gifts.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of ”The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.” Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

More from Jill Lawrence: 

Pam’s experience at my ’60s white school is the history we need to teach. Not ignore.

From Trump 2020 to ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ GOP leaders waste millions of taxpayer dollars

A Black woman on the Supreme Court can’t fix Democrats’ problems, but America needs her

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