Donations and words of support for the Black community flooded in from major tech companies all this month following the killing of George Floyd by police. The largest commitment from the industry came from PayPal, which said it will invest $500 million in Black and minority businesses and give away $30 million.
The funding is a continuation of how PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has run the digital payments business for the past five years, with the company repeatedly pushing to support minorities, even amid heavy criticism and controversy when doing so.
In 2016, Schulman opted to pull out of a 400-person operations center in North Carolina, after the state passed an anti-transgender law. He received death threats. Two years later, his company banned the social site Gab for hosting anti-Semitic posts, as part of a purge of far-right groups and figures. The decision on Gab made Schulman a target of criticism on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.
Rather than being dissuaded by these threats, Schulman said he wants to push much further. He said the new funding is PayPal’s way of attacking systemic racism, using its venture capital money to counteract the persistent difficulty Black-owned businesses face in gaining loans and investments.
“You need to do more than just condemn racism, you need to be … anti-racist,” Schulman said in an interview with CNET last week. “And what anti-racist means to us, at least, is that you have to be part of the fight. You need to stand up and be involved.”
PayPal’s work is part of a burgeoning movement in the US to show support for the Black community and takedown racist symbols that have long remained in the country. Just this month, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its events, the Aunt Jemima brand was sunset and statues of Confederate leaders have been removed in several US cities.
The tech industry is now again reckoning with its failure to diversify its workforce, even after repeated efforts to do so. To confront these issues, Apple announced the new $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings will donate $120 million to historically Black colleges and universities, and companies including Amazon, Google and Verizon are donating millions of dollars.
“It’s important, it’s positive,” Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said in an interview of all the new funding. He cautioned that companies giving to Black causes for the first time should partner with nonprofits with track records so they can make the biggest impact. PayPal did that by teaming up with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity and several other organizations.
Jackson, a long-time civil rights activist who founded the Rainbow PUSH Coalition nonprofit, said he’s most interested in funding that goes to strengthening Black institutions, including businesses and schools.
Schulman said he hopes his company’s new funding will inspire some lasting change, even after the recent wave of George Floyd marches ends.
Here is CNET’s interview with Schulman, which was edited for length and some clarification:
CNET: Why get involved in these political issues? You got death threats after North Carolina. Is this backlash worth it? Schulman: Well, my mom asked me the same question after I got all of those death threats. And you know what I told her, and what we talked about inside the company, is that values are fundamental to how somebody defines themselves, how a company defines themselves. And so you have to act on your values. Values can’t just be words on a wall. Otherwise, they’re just propaganda. You have to live them, you have to act them out. And you have to demonstrate them visibly.
Tell me about the investment fund. We spent a lot of time post the tragic death of George Floyd talking inside the company, because, like the rest of the country, it unleashed a torrent of emotion. You know, despair, and also determination. And this was throughout our company but most acutely felt by our Black colleagues. We spoke to Black leaders across the country to think about how might we respond because obviously we responded right away by condemning any acts of overt systemic racism, but I think you need to do more than just condemn racism.
And so we announced that we were supporting this movement against systemic racism, really focused on trying to do something that we distinctively could help, which is looking at what the racial wealth gap is. And the racial wealth gap today is basically the same as it was back in the last civil rights movement in the late 1960s. So there really is no improvement. And so we decided to make a major commitment, $530 million. Some of it shorter term-oriented, but we also put in place a very substantial amount of money to help over the long term, because at some point, the marches start to fade away, but the problem still exists.