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Taco Bell’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ controversy shows how easily corporations can stumble on race issues



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Taco Bell was getting quite the beating on social media on Thursday after a Facebook video made last week by a man who said he was fired from an Ohio franchise for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask went viral.

Denzel Skinner posted a video on Facebook on June 8 in which he described being asked to remove the mask while working and then told not to come back after he walked off the job at a restaurant he had worked at for eight years.

“This is crazy. All because I got a Black Lives Matter mask on that I’m losing my job,” Skinner said in the video. “We can wear any type of masks.” One tweet of the video garnered tens of thousands of retweets and likes and led to hashtags such as #tacoballisoverparty and #RIPTacoBell.

A spokesperson for Taco Bell, a unit of Yum Brands, confirmed to Fortune in an email that workers were free to wear Black Lives Matters masks and would clarify the mask policy to avoid a repeat of the incident. The company also said that Yum’s head of human resources and the head of diversity and inclusion had spoken to Skinner last week and offered to apologize. Franchisees in the quick service restaurants industry typically oversee human resource management at their restaurants.

“We believe in Black Lives Matter. We were disappointment to learn about the incident that took place in Youngstown, Ohio,” Taco Bell’s statement said.

The contretemps is embarrassing for the company coming soon after Taco Bell CEO Mark King published an open letter addressing the killing of George Floyd in which he said he and Taco Bell would work to fight racism.

“I’m a white male,” King wrote on June 2. “I grew up in the Midwest and now live in Southern California, where the Black population is a small percentage of the community. I will not pretend to understand the weight of the years of injustice and inequality that our Black friends and colleagues have experienced.”

He continued: “Let me be clear: we don’t tolerate racism or violence against Black people. And we demand inclusivity. We have more work to do and Taco Bell will continue to lead and drive positive change amongst our communities and beyond.”

The statement was similar to those of countless other big corporations this month with lofty goals but short on details on how they’d be reached, and the Skinner case shows the challenges of living up to such ideals while running a business during a time of polarization on matters of race.

Starbucks ran into a similar issue this month. The coffee chain, which has been a vocal proponent of racial equality, backtracked on an earlier decision and eventually let store workers wear their own Black Lives Matter gear despite previously barring them.

Earlier this week, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta announced a big campaign to fight racism, and the next day a division of the company announced it would retire the name of the Aunt Jemima brand.

More coverage on the intersection of race and business from Fortune:

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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