Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

The Color of Corporations

Posted Apr 24, 2013 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

When you think of corporations, what color are they? Are they black or white?  The Supreme Court decision to see them as deserving the right to free speech makes the answer trickier than one might imagine. 

So we know that corporations are properties.  People own them.  You can buy and sell them.  So how can property have the right to free speech?  We do know of another kind of property that could speak—African slaves—but their right to free speech was never protected.  Slaves, of course, were not really properties.  They were human beings.  But corporations are not human beings—they do not belong to our common humanity—they are actually legal property (Actually the only kind of property is legal property).  So, is a corporation a kind of speaking property, and if so, what is its color?

Here is a clue:  Guess what color the political philosopher, Joel Olson, has in mind when he writes the following:

It is a form of disciplinary power that organizes people into groups, distributes them according to a hierarchy, and allocates advantages to some and disadvantages to others, thereby shaping the way in which people make sense of the world.  (The Abolition of White Democracy p. 118)

The answer is “white.”  If we see white not as status, but as power relations, then the legal corporation is white, and it will remain white as long as its hierarchical designs of property relations determine the nature of our work communities.

Some may think that writing about the color of corporations may not help us very much, but it may be the one think we have been missing that could change everything.


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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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