June 17, 2020
America is experiencing a bad case of déjà vu.
In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights Movement fought for the Black community to have equal rights under the law. Now, more than half a century later, it’s happening again. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford — these are the names of only a few of the recent victims of the painful reality that Black people are still not treated as equal under the law or in most spheres of society today. To the contrary, Black people are frequently subject to discriminatory profiling and violence that ends and damages lives and perpetuates systemic economic inequality.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in every single American state, brands and influencers from around the world are speaking up. For some, it’s a PR move; an empty-handed gesture of “solidarity.” For others, acting and using their platform to aid Black people in the struggle against deeply ingrained injustice is a natural extension of their ethos. And for others yet, it presents an opportunity to critically evaluate their position, their complicity, and their future course of action.
It’s not a passing phase
Brands are beginning to realize that this upswell of social awareness is not a blip on the radar or some kind of passing fad. Businesses are now expected to be active participants in conversations about anti-racism and inclusivity, within the workplace, within their communities and in the public sphere.
Keeping silent in the face of state-sanctioned anti-Black brutality and murder and failing to take affirmative action is no longer an option, not just to avoid public criticism and appease consumers, but also to attract and retain talent in a very competitive recruitment environment. Customers, prospective and current employees are now basing their choices and brand loyalty on the stance — and critically, the actions — brands take in this critical moment.
Brands need to make anti-racism and inclusivity a company-wide endeavor that transcends marketing and social media to become a foundational value that reverberates through everything the company does, becoming inextricable from its brand, employment practices, and product or service offerings.
While the current focus is on addressing the wrongs experienced by Black people on a daily basis, brands are also under increasing pressure to be more inclusive of marginalized communities across the board.
COVID-19 may have canceled the parades this year, but let’s not forget that June is Pride Month, commemorating the historic Stonewall uprising — another historic fight that affected immediate change — sparked by police violence; a fight for the same basic outcome: to be treated with acceptance, dignity and respect — and if nothing else, equality.
A true fight for equality must be intersectional, by the very definition of the word equality. It’s all too easy to pick the battles that align with our own worldviews, to the exclusion of identities and narratives that are unfamiliar or make us uncomfortable.
It’s more critical than ever that brands and individuals alike actively interrogate and combat narratives that discriminate against marginalized communities, whether it’s racism, trans erasure, ableism, ageism, misogyny, or any other systemic bias that disadvantages groups or individuals while giving others preferential treatment.
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