As we transition almost seamlessly from one catastrophe to another, it seems that our social justice brandwagon is dragging its heels a little too much.
I found myself in downtown Miami on Saturday afternoon in what became a battleground of violent clashes between activists and law enforcement. Dozens of police cruisers were set ablaze, smoke and tear gas filled the air, amplified by the chants and cries of people who, after decades of unsuccessful peaceful protests, are fed up with it all. While most joined to protest in a peaceful and meaningful way, the pain and grief that has stricken these communities contributed to acts of violence by others, and doubled down by supremacists and un-oppressed individuals posing as activists who want to put their efforts in a bad light by inciting violence and using this as an opportunity to do so. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out too well.
The following morning, I opened LinkedIn to get my daily dose of industry horseshit, and the sobering batch of garbage that populated my feed came as no surprise. At the top of my screen was an official statement from the NFL:
I’ll be sure not to eat before checking LinkedIn from now on, because I threw up in my mouth a little upon reading that.
The NFL’s immature emotional meltdown over Kaepernick performing the most peaceful protest of the 21st century by merely taking a knee, are now contradicting themselves with a repulsive lie and empty promise…
I continued to scroll through my feed, only to see more garbage. White text on black backgrounds, nearly identical wording on each, oddly reminiscent of our recent string of redundant COVID advertising. Post after post, coming from all the big players—Amazon, Facebook, EA Games, Target, the list goes on.
While I agree it’s critically important for these messages to be amplified, frantically pumping out something that topical with nothing behind it doesn’t check all the boxes for us, buddy.
Showing solidarity isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to social issues.
Stop using the voices of people who are most affected by a tragedy as your currency to get involved in the conversation. As corporations worth billions and often powerful enough to get away with not even paying taxes, we look at you giving nothing more than a thumbs-up and see it as a thinly veiled, disingenuous “don’t forget about us!” cry for attention.
Have you actually picked a side, or are you just throwing your name into the mix in hopes of your consumers seeing you in a good light, so you can further your ego and feeling of self-importance in this world?
Since the slaying of George Floyd, the term “performative activism” has gone from obscurity to a household phrase faster than “social distancing.” Brands, some of which who have exacerbated the compounding humanitarian issues leading up to where we are today, are frantically trying to establish their place in this mess with nothing more than a mere tweet, in hopes of increasing their moral standing with consumers on the surface level without having to put any effort behind it.
But with no actual intention of advocating and becoming a real catalyst for change, or even willingness to shake you finger against these issues on a normal given day, stirring the pot when it all comes crashing down for your own PR is really fucking repulsive.
The NFL is one of the worst offenders here. You silenced Kaepernick. He protested peacefully and silently, and you went completely mental, threw him off the boat, and boasted threats to all your players if they dared try the same. You legitimized his opposers. You joined the side of all the people who tried to pretend his message about police brutality against African Americans in our country were nonsense, gave them the thumbs up, and silenced him and anyone else among you who supported him. Well, look at where we are today. Do you still oppose his peaceful protest now?
I am by no means advocating for violence, it’s extremely hard to bear, especially in light of the reason there are protests in the first place. We need to do better than this, but we can’t deny this has been a long time coming and measures should have been taken long, long ago, by both public officials and brands who pretended to “get involved,” and none of us are really surprised it has resulted in such a calamity. And if we don’t advance in those efforts now, it will only happen again.
Either put your money where your mouth is, or shut your damn mouth.
A black square on instagram alongside a misused hashtag just isn’t going to cut it. A quote from MLK and an altered version of your logo is even more vomit-inducing. For once, try to look beyond the tip of your own dick.
These movements, and the organizations and activists running them, they need tangible assistance, funding for their activism, targeting elected officials and lobbying for change, something, anything measurable. If you want to help, partner with the organizations they work with and use your power, money and resources to create that change. Your simple “message of solidarity and inspiration” is of virtually little use. And there is no need to “start a conversation,” we’re way past that. There’s nothing that hasn’t been said.
We’ve all seen study after study come out over the past decade claiming how consumers want brands to get more involved in social issues. So I’m going to give you my four guidelines on how to do it:
- Do your homework.
The more sensitive the issue, the more deeply you need to understand it before you even open your mouth. You’d think this is common sense, but Kendall Jenner once tried solving racism with a can of Pepsi, so…
- Enlist advocates.
And listen to them, while you’re at it. That’s half of why you need them in the first place. Give them the power of your brand, instead of dictating your efforts for them.
- Contribute in a helpful way.
Like I said, creating change, tearing down powerfully established and corrupt institutions and creating reform, that stuff isn’t cheap. These organizations desperately need funding, and we all know you hide money in offshore accounts.
- Continue your efforts year-round.
This is an issue many of us in the LGBT+ community have been trying to press for years, and it applies to our current climate of racial injustice more than ever. Showing your “support” for a few weeks and subsequently shelving those efforts until next year is an obvious, disappointing ploy. These issues are a daily problem, and should be treated as such.
This cataclysmic burning of our cities isn’t being put out by your tweets. The loss of lives and suppression of human beings isn’t immediately solvable with an altered slogan or a sympathetic instagram post. The efforts to change systemic racism and improve communities, outreach organizations, education, and accountability need all the resources they can get, considering they’re going after the most powerful people out there.
COVID already has consumers more cynical than ever before about corporations getting involved in human catastrophes. So if your brand switches to this and follows up with another altered version of your logo, or whatever, expect some much-deserved backlash.
There was this line I used in an off-topic petition recently, and it’s even more important to know in our current climate: A good act speaks louder than a good ad.
With that, below you can find a short list of relevant charities to donate to if you really want to show your support and get involved in a meaningful way:
Reclaim the Block
North Star Health Collective
The Bail Project
Communities United Against Police Brutality
Know Your Rights Camp
Black Lives Matter Global Network
Black Voters Matter Fund
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Color of Change Education Fund
It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take another look at your leadership and who is running your company. Believe it or not, diversity in leadership goes a much longer way than just looking good for a press release. Mind blowing, right?
I’ll sign off with one last note: If Merriam Webster and Oxford could update their definition of “hypocrisy” with a screenshot of this tweet, that would be great: