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GM CEO reverses, will meet Black media execs who charged automaker with ‘systemic racism’

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra will reverse course and meet with seven Black executives of Black-owned media outlets, according to the company.

The move comes after the group published full-page ads in The Detroit Free Press on Sunday and The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday blasting GM, accusing it of “systemic racism.”

They criticized the automaker for not spending more on Black-owned media and slammed Barra for delegating their repeated requests for a direct meeting to her head of marketing.

Signatories of the ad include Weather Channel owner Byron Allen; the rapper, actor and media mogul Ice Cube; and Junior Bridgeman, the owner of Ebony Media, and others.

The group met this week with the automaker’s chief marketing officer, Deborah Wahl, said GM company spokesperson Pat Morrissey.

“We are disappointed that Mr. Allen and his fellow signatories resorted to additional paid media advertising to advance a narrative of factual inaccuracies and character assault against our CEO, Mary Barra,” Morrissey said in a statement.

“It is particularly perplexing given that the paid advertising appears after the GM team has had repeated meetings with Mr. Allen and his team, and after we had scheduled a meeting between the signatories and Ms. Barra,” he said.

“As we have maintained all along, the meeting with Ms. Barra was always on the table once Mr. Allen invested in a brief discussion with our CMO to correct factual inaccuracies and to scope the request from Mr. Allen and the signatories, which varied wildly from day to day,” the statement continued. “It appears that Mr. Allen’s preference is to continue making his contentions in the media.”

“We are proud of our relationship with Black-owned media partners, including our existing commercial relationship with Mr. Allen. We have stated our aspiration to be the most inclusive company in the world and have taken many concrete steps to advance that goal,” said Morrissey. “With respect specifically to Black-owned media we increased our spend by 100 percent from 2020 to 2021, and we plan to grow from there. We will continue our efforts.”

The company did not confirm when the new meeting would take place.

Members of the Black-owned media group didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“The meeting with Mary Barra is long overdue,” Allen told The Detroit Free Press on Tuesday. “This meeting came to fruition because of the enormous press around the ad.”

“We’re looking forward to it and we hope that we can finally get something done where we have meaningful economic inclusion for Black-owned media,” said Allen.

The ad had asserted that GM only spends 0.5 percent of its ad budget on Black-owned media properties, while African-Americans make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population. And it said if Barra wouldn’t meet with them, she should resign.

GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said GM spends “significantly” more than 0.5 percent with Black-owned media.

Since becoming GM CEO in January 2015, Barra has declared a goal of creating “the most inclusive company in the world.” Last week the company appointed two new members to its board of directors: former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association.

After the death of George Floyd in police custody last May, Barra wrote a letter to employees saying that she was “impatient and disgusted” by the events and stressed the need to “individually and collectively” act.

Last June 19 — known as Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States — GM asked employees to observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time Chauvin is recorded as having his knee on Floyd’s neck during his fatal arrest, as a sign of solidarity with the black community. (Prosecutors at Chauvin’s murder trial in Minneapolis this week have said it was actually 9 minutes and 46 seconds.)

But the newspaper ads said these moves didn’t go far enough to create material change.

“You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad says of Barra. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”

Barra declined a request for comment.


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