AIG CEO says bonuses backlash is the same as racist lynching, is the worst

Robert Benmosche

Photo via Huffington Post and Bloomberg.

Katie mentioned this in the Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet yesterday, but we thought it deserved its own post. AIG CEO Robert Benmosche was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about controversial bonuses given out by his company.  You know, when AIG gave $165 million in bonuses to members of their financial products division after the government bailed them out because members of their financial products division nearly destroyed the company and contributed to crashing the economy. Benmosche had the perfect analogy for public reaction to the bonuses. From Huffington Post:

He told The Wall Street Journal that the outcry over AIG’s bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

“It is a shame we put them through that,” he added, referring to those poor employees who got huge bonuses.

Um, wow.

"That's racist!" gif

Let’s see, on the one hand you’ve got a bunch of absurdly overpaid corporate employees getting criticized for taking huge bonuses after robbing the rest of us blind. And on the other hand you’ve got Black people being systematically hunted and killed by white racists for the purposes of upholding segregation. In point of fact, corporate criminals weren’t brought to the guillotine but were met with peaceful Occupy protests (which were met with state violence).

Benmosche’s statement is extraordinary in just how racist and off the mark it is. In an email statement sent out after the article was published, Benmosche said, “It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it.” Actually, this analogy is so off base it’s much more than just a poor choice of words. It’s an example of how out of touch with reality someone with way too much economic privilege can be. Benmosche sees himself and other people who got rich off destroying the economy and then got away with it as victims.  They see people they robbed blind who protested as a lynch mob. And they’ve gotten away with creating a world where they’re so insulated from the rest of reality by extraordinary income inequality that they can keep seeing the world through this magical, racist lens.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has called for Benmosche to resign:

“As the leading critic of AIG’s lavish spending before and after its taxpayer funded bailout — and as the son of sharecroppers who actually experienced lynchings in their communities — I find it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equates the violent repression of the African American people with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars,” Cummings said in an emailed statement.

“I believe he has demonstrated a fundamental inability to lead this modern global company in a responsible manner — a company that exists today only because it was rescued by the American taxpayers — and that he should resign his position as CEO immediately,” Cummings added.

Benmosche is just one person, and his resignation wouldn’t fix the evils of our economy. But he’s also one of the people who is directly responsible for that economy, and he’s made it very clear in public that he has no remorse or even a realistic sense of wrong doing. While it’s not enough, I’d like to at least see him get the boot.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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