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Corporations, Vocal About Racial Justice, Go Quiet on Voting Rights

As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets last summer, many of the country’s largest corporations expressed solidarity and pledged support for racial justice. But now, with lawmakers around the country advancing restrictive voting rights bills that would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, corporate America has gone quiet.

Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights. The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts.

“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “This shows that they lack a real commitment to racial equity. They are complicit in their silence.”

On Thursday, hours after the Georgia voting restrictions were signed into law, Ms. Brown joined protesters at the Atlanta airport calling for a boycott of Delta, Georgia’s largest employer. In front of the Delta terminal, they lobbied for employees to pressure their employer and urged the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, to use his clout to sway the debate.

said the company would “invest our resources to advance social justice causes” and “use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations.”

But last week, rather than take a position on the then-pending legislation, Coca-Cola said it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which were diplomatically calling on legislators to maximize voter participation while avoiding any pointed criticisms.

said. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything. And our position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support.”

Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Black pastor who was elected in January, called out companies for their muted responses in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

“I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Senator Warnock said. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”

Corporate America’s guarded approach to the partisan issue of voting rights stands in stark contrast to its engagement with other social and political issues in recent years. When legislatures advanced “bathroom bills” that would have discriminated against people who are transgender, many big companies threatened to pull out of states like Indiana, Georgia and Texas.

And over the past four years, many big companies spoke out against President Donald J. Trump on issues including climate change, immigration and white supremacy.

“It’s not as though corporations are unwilling to speak powerfully about social justice issues,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “It seems to me perfectly legitimate for Black voters in Georgia to expect them to speak just as powerfully and directly about what is an unwarranted attack on the ability of Black voters to participate in the political process.”

on Twitter. Criticizing an early version of the Georgia bill, it added: “Georgia H.B. 531 would limit trustworthy, safe & equal access to voting by restricting early voting & eliminating provisional ballots. That’s why Salesforce opposes H.B. 531 as it stands.”

Patagonia, which has worked to increase voter participation, condemned the new bills and called on other companies to get more involved.

“Our democracy is under attack by a new wave of Jim Crow bills that seek to restrict the right to vote,” Ryan Gellert, the chief executive of Patagonia, said in a statement. “It is urgent that businesses across the country take a stand — and use their brands as a force for good in support of our democracy.”

Those were the exceptions. For the most part, big companies declined to comment on the Georgia legislation as it came together. Even chief executives who have made names for themselves by championing diversity chose not to get involved. Tim Ryan, the senior partner at PwC and a founder of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, declined to comment for this article.

“The voice of individual leaders is oddly muted,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management who regularly gathers chief executives to talk about controversial issues. “For the most part, they are not yet taking the same courageous stands they have taken on election ballot counting and the election results this fall, let alone on immigration, gun safety and the infamous bathroom bills.”

After four years of responding to the often extreme policies of the Trump administration, many companies are seeking to stay out of political fights.

And the voting bills are being driven by mainstream Republican lawmakers, rather than lesser-known right-wing figures. Companies that take a stand might have a harder time currying favor with those lawmakers on other issues down the line.

“This is not the fringe members trying to push bathroom bills,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the chief executive of Fair Fight, a voter-rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. “This is a priority for the party at the national level. For companies to speak out and work against these bills is very different.”

Ms. Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said there was another factor at play as well: race. “Why is it that corporations that could speak so powerfully and unequivocally in opposition to discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and immigrants are not speaking as clearly about the disenfranchisement of Black people?” she said. “It’s the same thing. This is a race issue.”

Companies have effectively squashed bills at the state level before. In 2016, when lawmakers were advancing the bathroom bills, major corporations said they would move jobs out of states that adopted such measures. Responding to one such bill in Georgia in 2016, the Walt Disney Company said, “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

The tactic was effective. Many of those bills were tabled as lawmakers responded to the threats of lost business.

This time around, however, the entertainment industry has taken a more guarded approach.

When asked for comment, Disney, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment and ViacomCBS either said they had no public comment or did not respond to queries. The Motion Picture Association, Hollywood’s lobbying organization, declined to comment, as did Amazon Studios, which six months ago released “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” a documentary about efforts by Ms. Abrams and other activists to tear down voting barriers in Georgia and elsewhere.

The fight in Georgia is likely a preview of things to come. Lawmakers in dozens of states have proposed similar voting bills, and activists are planning to ramp up the pressure on corporate America as the battle over voting rights goes national.

Companies, meanwhile, are trying to maintain a delicate balancing act. Though the Georgia law passed Thursday was less stringent than initially proposed, it introduced more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes and expanded the state legislature’s power over elections.

After its passage, Delta and Coca-Cola appeared to take some credit for helping soften the bill’s restrictions. Delta said it had “engaged extensively with state elected officials” in recent weeks and that “the legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process.”

Coca-Cola issued a similar statement, saying it had “sought improvements” to the law and that it would “continue to identify opportunities for engagement and strive for improvements aimed at promoting and protecting the right to vote in our home state and elsewhere.”

Those words were cold comfort to activists who had worked against the efforts to curb voter rights.

“They have made soft statements rather than stepping out,” Ms. Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Brooks Barnes and Nicole Craine contributed reporting.

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Racist Moments in WWE Catalog Are Missing on Peacock Streaming

Fans of the WWE Network have seen and heard racist tropes in the ring for years.

In 1990, during a showdown between Roddy Piper and Bad News Brown, a Black wrestler, Mr. Piper, who is white, showed up to the match with half his face painted black.

In 2005, Vince McMahon, the chief executive of WWE, used a racial slur repeatedly in a prepared skit.

Until recently, those segments were available to watch on the WWE Network, which allowed subscribers to revisit old episodes and seasons of WrestleMania going back to the 1980s. But this month, after WWE episodes began moving to Peacock, NBCUniversal’s fledgling streaming service, longtime viewers of wrestling noticed they could not find either segment.

“The whole match is gone,” said Christopher Jeter, 30, who has watched professional wrestling since he was 10 and now writes about it for Daily DDT, a news and opinion site about WWE. “I wouldn’t say it’s a big loss.”

NBCUniversal said that Peacock was “reviewing WWE content to ensure it aligns with Peacock’s standards and practices,” as it does other shows and films on the platform.

said in January that Peacock had acquired exclusive streaming rights to WWE Network content through a multiyear agreement.

In March, the company announced that Peacock would feature WWE “fan-favorite content at launch, including all past WrestleManias leading up to WrestleMania 37.

The company said that Peacock would continue to add WWE Network content to its library, making the entire archive available to fans.

The removal of the segments come as other streaming services and entertainment companies have sought to give audiences context for older films and television shows that feature offensive content.

Disney’s streaming service includes a 12-second disclaimer that cannot be skipped before films like “Dumbo” and “Peter Pan” that tells viewers they will see “negative depictions” and “mistreatment of people or cultures.”

Turner Classic Movies showed 18 classic films, including “The Jazz Singer” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” that were preceded by commentary from film experts who prepared viewers for scenes they could find jarring or upsetting.

HBO Max initially removed “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming service, then added it again with a four-minute introduction by the TCM host Jacqueline Stewart, who explains the enduring cultural importance of the film even as it “denies the horrors of slavery as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”

Last June, an NBC spokesman said four episodes of “30 Rock” that featured blackface were being removed from circulation at the request of Tina Fey, the show’s creator, and Robert Carlock, an executive producer and showrunner.

Mr. Jeter, the WWE fan who writes about wrestling, said that racist and sexist depictions of women, Black people and other people of color have long been a part of professional wrestling.

“It became such a part of watching the product that it became expected,” he said. “But it’s not why I watch wrestling.”

Most fans, he said, watch wrestling because they enjoy the combination of athleticism and dramatic storytelling. The racist tropes were often a distraction from that, Mr. Jeter said.

“I’m sure there are fans who are saying, ‘Why are you censoring?’” he said. “But it really isn’t a big deal that they’re getting rid of these stories and segments that haven’t really aged well, and weren’t really good at the time.”

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