While the Black Lives Matter protests continue, it is impossible for culture-shifting brands to stay quiet, especially if they want to keep their loyal customers and community intact. A decade or so ago, brands might have been able to get away with laying low on political statements and staying out of divisive topics—because they did not want to risk losing any customers. But today, if you are a brand and you don’t stand for something, then you will most likely lose your new gen community.
Here are 5 companies that got it right. Keep on reading for a bonus round at the end of the article, where a company got it really, really wrong.
Everyone’s favourite childhood brand LEGO has paused all advertising of its police officers toys line and sets on Blackout Tuesday, as the company makes it public that it “stands with the black community against racism and inequality.”
But the extent to which the company has paused or cancelled its marketing spend and sales on the sets has gained false coverage across media sites and social media. It was widely reported that LEGO pulled the plug on all sales of the toy sets as well as ad spends, but this has now been clarified to be false.
According to LEGO’s tweet on 4 June, “We’ve seen incorrect reports saying we’ve removed some LEGO sets from sale. To be clear, that is not the case and reports otherwise are false. Our intention was to temporarily pause digital advertising in response to events in the US. We hope this clears things up.”
Okay, so LEGO, who has notoriously been silent about political issues for the past several decades has not gone all out and removed police officers from its toy lines. But it has, in turn, also donated $4 million to several (unspecified to date) non-profit organisations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and black lives in the US.
Glossier, the new gen makeup and beauty brand that always seems to ‘get it’, has equally hit the nail on the head with its response to the protests and George Floyd’s murder. In a very Glossier-esque manner, the company issued a statement on its Instagram account on 1 June, announcing that the company stands with the Black Lives Matter movement.
In addition to following the call out for Blackout Tuesday and not posting any content for the past five days in order to allow the amplification of black voices and information about the protests, Glossier also announced it will be donating $500,000 to organisations focused on combating racial injustice. The list of organisations included Black Lives Matter, The NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Marsha P. Marshall Institute and We Are The Protestors.
Led by founder and CEO Emily Wiess, the millennial who founded the now billion-dollar company off the back of her hit blog Into The Gloss, always leads Glossier with a deep understanding of what her customers and community care about, and in turn, what the company cares about too.
Nike is notorious for taking risks to stand behind (some) social justice. In 2018, following NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s kneel during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality in America, Nike ran a risky albeit bold global campaign that saw Kaepernick, who had then been removed from the NFL and his team the San Francisco 49ers, staring at the camera with a Nike quote reading “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
As expected, Nike was not going to sit this one out either—having already taken such a bold statement on Kaepernick’s mission and activism. On 31 May, Nike published a controversial video, urging its community and the world to “For once, don’t do it.” Calling on us all to stop pretending there isn’t a problem in our systems and societies.
While Nike’s track record for the care and regard for human life is questionable (let’s not ignore the brand’s infamous Chinese sweatshops), we cannot deny the power of this campaign.
Spearheaded by Rihanna, who has publicly spoken out about police brutality and racial injustice in America before, Fenty announced that it is closing its business during Blackout Tuesday. Fenty was absolutely not alone in pausing sales throughout the day, as hundreds of other brands and businesses claimed to do the same.
Alongside its pause of sales, Fenty announced on 3 June that it will be donating funds to Color of Change and Movement for Black Lives.
Monki, the fashion brand on a mission to empower the new gen, also stands in solidarity with the black community. In a post published on Monki’s Instagram account, the brand commemorated the recent victims of racism in the US and announced it was donating to organisations that fight against racial injustice such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Color of Change and ACLU.
The brand also posted a second Instagram post aiming to educate its followers on 10 anti-racism terms to learn. The short guide is a practical resource for people to learn from and share. Monki admitted that although the list might be a drop in the ocean when it comes to educating ourselves and continuing our efforts to create meaningful impact to support the black community, it’s a place to start.
Monki further encouraged its followers and customers to share other important educators and resources they think the brand should support.
You thought we’d leave you without mentioning L’Oréal? That’s not our style.
L’Oréal Paris, of course, joined the gang in issuing a generic if not hollow comradeship statement on the company’s Instagram account on 2 June, reading ‘Speaking out is worth it’, which is an unmissable tongue-in-cheek twist of the company’s iconic ‘Because you’re worth it’ slogan.
However, minutes after posting their statement, the company experienced immense backlash from users demanding L’Oréal issues a public apology to trans activist and model Munroe Bergdorf who it haphazardly dropped from a global contract.
In August 2017, Bergdorf became one of the faces of L’Oréal’s True Match diversity campaign, which set to launch a range of foundation colours that were diverse in their plethora of skin tones. But it didn’t take long before the model and activist was dropped after speaking out publicly in an Instagram post following the violent protests in Charlottesville.
Bergdorf did exactly what L’Oréal claims it ‘supports’: three years ago, she spoke out against white supremacy and white privilege. She did so in a manner that was educational and understandably frustrated. But Bergdorf in no way supported violence or hate crime. She used her position of power and influence to tell the world and her followers what white privilege means.
In response to L’Oréal’s sad attempt at jumping on the bandwagon, Bergdorf posted an Instagram post 48 hours after waiting for the brand to apologise to her, which never happened.
Sorry L’Oréal, you’re not worth it.
The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota and the ensuing wave of protests serve as a painful reminder of how deadly and prevalent racial injustice remains, not only in the US, but across the world. They highlight in a most gut-wrenching way the scope and implications of white supremacy and the degree to which our social, political, and economic systems are saturated with it.
As the streets fill up with clamours for justice and change and social media feeds display black squares for Blackout Tuesday, many white and white-passing individuals struggle to figure out ways in which to support the movement. But in order to truly uproot the plague of white supremacy—white and white-passing individuals must completely transform our approach and understanding of racial injustice and acknowledge our responsibility to not only condemn but actively fight against institutional discrimination and racism. Here’s where we can start.
While there’s a tendency to associate white supremacy with overt acts of aggression and violence against racial minorities and membership in hate groups such as the KKK, racism is exhibited in far more nuanced and covert ways.
In an essay for the New York Times, Ibram X. Kendi, a professor, award-winning author and director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, shares that, “We learn early the racist notion that white people have more because they are more; that people of colour have less because they are less. I had internalised this worldview by my high school graduation, seeing myself and my race as less than other people and blaming other blacks for racial inequities.”
Such deeply-embedded conceptions about race affect white people, too, and are manifested in myriad ways, such as discrimination in employment, silence in the face of aggression against minorities, white parents self-segregating schools, victim-blaming—just to list a few.
It is important to recognise these forms of covert racism and engage in honest and ongoing self-reflection to see in what ways each of us is affected by these centuries-old racial biases.
Most history lessons taught in high school and higher education institutions give the false impression that the end of slavery and the Jim Crow laws marked the termination of systemic, state-sanctioned racism in the US. This is far from being the case. It is important that white people educate themselves about the ways in which white supremacy has permeated and shaped our systems of government and social institutions.
This includes, among others, biases in criminal justice legislation and enforcement (manifested in mass incarceration and criminalisation of minor offences), gerrymandering and other voter-suppression tactics, discrimination in education funding and provision of healthcare services and proper infrastructure in predominantly black and Hispanic communities.
It is also important to understand that violence—physical, verbal, institutional—against people of colour takes place on a daily basis in the form of racial profiling, arrests, humiliation, deportation, etc. The outburst of rage we witness following a murder case like that of George Floyd is a collective expression of pent-up, corrosive and generational hardship and pain.
As opposed to turning to people of colour for answers, white and white-passing people should immerse themselves in the extensive volumes of black literature in which African Americans describe and analyse their experiences in their own words, through their own lenses.
Such literature dates back to the days of slavery (with books such as the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave written by former slave Frederick Douglass), and extends throughout the decades, with novels such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and more contemporary research about manifestations of systemic racism—such as Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Corow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
This post, for instance, includes lists of books, podcasts, movies and shows that deal with racial injustice and centre black voices:
Amplifying the voices of black people, as opposed to continuing to centre white voices in the battle against racism, is another crucial step toward racial justice and equality, seeing as one of the major hurdles to the eradication of white supremacy is the perpetual highjacking of the narrative around racism and oppression of black people by white individuals.
In the age of social media, uplifting black voices can involve sharing information created by black people or centring around black narratives on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as clearing the virtual stage for black individuals (i.e—cutting back on art and lifestyle posts during times of heightened tensions).
Furthermore, as white and white-passing individuals, we should be mindful of what types of black voices we highlight; is it exclusively those of educated, powerful black leaders? Is it only posts of cis folks we share? If so, do they truly speak to the overall experience of black people in America?
Engaging with your local community is key in dismantling white supremacy since this is where a significant portion of systemic racism is manifested. Among the actions you may take is contacting your local police department and inquiring about their body-camera policies and de-escalation training. You should also contact your local government representatives and demand they take concrete action for racial justice. You may also research local groups and organisations operating in your area to uplift, support and protect black people.
Taking action online is another form of engagement that can help erode systemic racial biases and aggression. Consider donating to or supporting the fundraising efforts of organisations that fight for racial equality, tackle police brutality, and work to promote the safety and prosperity of black communities. Such groups include the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Black Visions Collective and Reclaim The Block. You may also sign online petitions such as Justice for George Floyd on Change.org and #JusticeforFloyd on act.colorofchange.org.
Acknowledging white privilege and calling out injustice aren’t worth much unless they are backed by consistent action to obliterate systemic racism. The state of our national psyche and systems of organisations call not only for white allyship but white leadership in the movement to terminate racial injustice.
White and white-passing people must take on the complex and highly-nuanced role of utilising our status and access to resources in order to shatter the walls surrounding our fortress of privilege while taking our cues from and uplifting black individuals and groups. This cannot be achieved by occasional outbursts of compassion following a tragedy that gains national attention, but only through long-term, persistent engagement, ongoing research and rigorous self-reflection.