Twitter is full of coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in the US (and increasingly around the world). Every hour new videos and proof of police brutality both in the past and right now are broadcast for the world to see.
Black people and their allies are taking to the streets. The complicity and brutality of the US police force is undeniable. Influencers are using their platforms to raise money for bail, for mental health support, for education. White people are either asking how can they help? What can they do? or voicing their support for the police even as they mow down peaceful protesters.
A large number of major brands and corporations are, however, noticeably silent. A few have released statements in support of Black Lives Matter - typically vague without any concrete explanation of how they’re going to use their vast resources (following this template that creator Chris Franklin/@Campster shared on Twitter):
As minimal as these statements are, at the very very least these brands are picking a side and reassuring people that they don’t support police brutality towards black people.
Is that such a hard statement to make? That you, as a corporation, don’t want black people to die? That you think institutional, violent racism is a bad thing? Apparently so. Apparently, many brands would rather stay silent than risk alienating their customers. But if you don’t put out an anti-racist statement because you don’t want to alienate your consumer base, then what kind of consumer base is that? What does that tell you about what kind of brand you are?
If you’re scared that you’ll look like you’re supporting looting (incidentally the last resort of the have-nots downtrodden for centuries by the haves), you don’t have to say you support all protesters’ actions. Say you support peaceful protest. Say you are anti police brutality. Say you are going to donate profits to support young black people’s mental health charities (and actually do it). Say something. Because at this point, silence says, ‘we don’t care’. Silence says, ‘we have all of these resources, all if this money, all of this influence, and we choose not to help’. Silence places you on the other side. Neutrality, something brand advisors have long been saying is increasingly unacceptable, is now complicity.
If you’re worried that you’ll be called out on your own lack of employee diversity, or that you haven’t got a history of supporting black communities, then now is the time to make that right. Own up to it. Address your history and shortcomings and commit to change. Use your influence to encourage others to do the same. Support black-owned businesses, place black people in leadership positions, acknowledge that these are things that need doing and do them.
Black people are being murdered. Black people need real allies.
#BlackLivesMatter. Is that so hard to say?
Becks Collins is a semiotician and cultural analyst.