Can companies really be allies?.
Brands talk a good game on social media. Does it mean anything?
Most social media is inherently performative. Often, it seems like soapboxing posts are just ways for people to give themselves a digital pat on the back, in the same way that sunset selfies and food shots show off just how totally aspirational their lives are. But politically engaged activity on social media has become a moral imperative in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing backlash. There has been a huge push to elevate BIPOC voices and pass along important information about donations and protests. It’s done a lot of good.
As with many online trends, though, the Brands have found ways to get involved and grind it down to its most meaningless essence. It’s easy enough to believe in the honest fire in the heart of the employees who elected to post a Desmond Tutu quote on the Bratz doll company’s Instagram, but it’s harder to believe that the ultimate decision-makers aren’t motivated solely by business concerns. Corporations, after all, are more reliant than ever on messaging to drive profits. Where brand social media was (and still is!) lampooned as an intern’s job, marketers (and increasingly, CEOs too) know that the right tweet could add billions to a company’s market cap — and that the wrong one could get everyone fired.
Therefore, solemn posts from brands in support of racial equality are often going to look like gestures made out of necessity rather than conviction. As with our own criticisms of friends and acquaintances’ performative social media posts, many people are looking for the action happening off the timeline. Have these brands donated money? Have they taken concrete actions to bolster people of color internally? Are they supporting their employees right to protest?
Last year, the Business Roundtable very performatively announced that the “purpose of a corporation” is partially based on “responsibility” to the communities they serve. At least of late, companies’ messaging departments seem to be up to the task; it remains to be seen if the rest of their organizations will follow suit. If corporations truly want us to view them as people, then it seems only fair to hold them to the same standards as we would the friends we criticize for their empty social media posts.
Causes to Support
Black Lives Matter
For a great one-stop shop for petitions, organizations to donate to, information about protesting safely, and more, start with this Black Lives Matters page.
The Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Brooklyn Bail Fund, and others have gotten so many donations that they’ve been asking for people to give to other organizations. There are still many bail funds (perhaps in your hometown or smaller city) that need funds. Here’s a good long list to start with.
This linkwill help you automatically generate an email to send it to every City Council member in your area, urging them to divert billions of dollars in resources away from their police forces.
Emergency Release Fund
The Emergency Release Fundis a mutual aid organization working to get LGBTQ+ and medically vulnerable individuals out of Rikers Island and ICE detention.
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
With local organizing committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona,Black Alliance for Just Immigration educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice.
Things are happening
This New Yorker op-ed from activist and academic Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an eye-opening perspective on the worldwide reaction to George Floyd’s murder and the potential for huge systemic changes in America.
What does “defunding the police” really mean? One thing it definitely doesn’t mean is stopping the investigation of wrongdoing or working to curtail violence within communities. Alex Vitale’s clear and concise The End of Policing is everywhere right now—it’s free from Verso Books, which helps—and with good reason.
Joshua Clover’s book Riot Strike Riot: The New Era of Uprisings traces the centuries-old history of rioting and how it interacts with social and economic trends. It does a great job of putting our current sociopolitical moment in context.
Angela Davis is one of the most influential black activists and writers of all time. Haven’t read her before? Try 2003’s Are Prisons Obsolete? which you can read for free online.
Need some other ideas? Check out this anti-racism reading list from Ibram X. Kendi that’s been circulating.
What We're Listening To
Nina Simone wasn’t only one of the most distinctive voices in pop music; she was also one of its great activists. On record, she was outspoken about racist violence in America as early as 1963, with her protest song “Mississippi Goddam” — likely to the detriment of her career as a pop star. There’s so much Nina that will blow you away, but try her classic 1967 album High Priestess of Soul for one with no skips.