As the Black community mourns the murder of George Floyd and the countless other victims of police brutality, a series of violent protests have broken out nationwide. Target, a corporation that has been directly affected by the protests and looting, released a statement in which they express their support for the movement. They announced the ways in which they will be showing their support, from donating supplies to making sure their employees are protected financially. Target’s direct involvement in these protests makes it easy to understand the reasoning behind the statement, but why aren’t other brands addressing the violence aimed at Black Americans?
Black and minority markets have over 3.9 trillion dollars in consumer buying power. The black dollar is something most businesses can not survive without and in an attempt to remain neutral, brands are alienating this entire demographic. Their silence on the matter invalidates all the support these communities have given these different businesses and brands. The Reebok Shoes statement captures this as they state, “Without the black community, Reebok would not exist. America would not exist.” The movement has made brands acknowledge the importance of black customers and team members in ensuring company success. It has put these businesses’ priorities in a different light as the importance of black customers is highlighted. Other brands have remained silent on the matter, such as Fashion Nova. Fashion Nova’s silence led to a statement by Makayla London, an online influencer sponsored by Fashion Nova, to make a public statement criticizing the brand. London points out the brand’s reliance on black influencers, black fashion, black customers, and black labor coinciding with their lack of regard for the community during these difficult times.
Throughout the week, the different responses released have broken the traditional non-political stance that companies take in order to avoid deterring consumers from their products. Much more is expected of companies as they are pressured to respond and use their own capital to join the fight against inequality. As more and more companies and influencers speak up and donate to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they are being held accountable for protecting their customers in exchange for the endless support from these communities across the country.
Similarly, these brands are faced with the lack of representation in their own spaces. It’s much more unlikely for a person of color to be affiliated with the corporate side of vendors and retailers than it is for a white person to occupy that position. Only 16% of board members in corporate America are people of color. This may just be due to the higher percentage of whites in the United States, but it’s important to note that most people of color are employed or work alongside white Americans, while only a fraction of white Americans share work spaces with people of other races. The Public Religion Research Institute released a study in which they assessed the racial demographics of friends across people of different races. They found that three quarters of white Americans do not have any non-white friends, while the average black American has 8 white friends. This matters when determining who has access to networks and opportunities. As the majority of white Americans do not interact with people of different races, those opportunities are monopolized and remain in the hands of other white Americans.
Company and brand reluctance to address the black lives matter movement is rooted in the absence of diversity in their own corporate settings. White Americans are already deficient in diversity within their own intimate lives and alongside the predominantly-white workplace it’s easier to ignore the political unrest. Not only is it easier to ignore, but it becomes increasingly difficult to approach the subject if team members are completely out of touch with the ways these issues affect their customers and lower level employees. Customer loyalty is earned through the acquisition of social responsibility within corporations that benefit from the black dollar. When customers feel supported they’re more likely to support you. Those companies who have chosen to remain silent send a message to all those black communities who are currently grieving and fighting for change. They make it clear that their regard for black lives begins and ends at the checkout line.
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