Post 5: Celebrities and Large Corporations: Why Black Lives Matter and Addressing Racism in America Is Important
By: Hannah Villegas
Following the tragic death of George Floyd in May of this year, racial justice protests and support for the Black Lives Matter movement has not only increased, but it has also brought light to an important social issue that America needs to talk about: racial injustice and policing in the United States. In response to Floyd’s death, millions and millions of disappointed, but determined individuals went out to the streets, despite the global pandemic, to protest the much needed social and authoritative change for America.
To some it may seem that America does not have a police violence and systematic racism problem, however, recent events have opened a lot of American’s eyes to the harsh reality of what it is like being Black in America. Since the tragic death of George Floyd, communities have come together to organize protests, support local black owned businesses and call out celebrities for racist behavior.
How Does Social Media Portray and Handle Racism?
It is important to recognize and hold celebrities accountable when they use their platform showing racist, sensitive and problematic behavior. While many celebrities have used their social media to raise awareness towards the movement and educate their followers on racial injustices, there have been a handful of celebrities who have demonstrated tone deaf, racist and unsupportive behavior towards the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. The internet can be a very fun, creative and helpful resource to some individuals, but it can also be a very dangerous and damaging one to others.
The overwhelming outpour of support towards the movement has completely changed American society completely. Because something that was once seen as a taboo and super sensitive topic, is now being discussed and advocated everywhere. However, the lack of support from well-known companies and celebrities have led to the loss of loyal fans and a damaging reputation. It has also caused a rise in cancel culture within social media and fans holding their favorite celebrities and organizations accountable for their problematic behavior.
Celebrities and Corporation’s Major Tone Deaf Scandals Regarding Black Lives
An example of well-known celebrities and companies demonstrating tone deaf behavior would be Pepsi’s commercial starring famous white, American model, Kendall Jenner. In April of 2017, the soda company released a commercial that showed a people versus police protest that was clearly similar to the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place across the country. Jenner is seen in the commercial modeling at a studio when the protest nearby catches her attention and is inspired to join the group of protesters. The crowd soon encounters a group of armed officers attempting to stop the protest by standing in a side by side formation. Kendall then makes the protest end by handing one of the police officers a can of Pepsi that brings them together and the whole crowd cheers.
Pepsi’s removal of their commercial quickly came after viewers called out the company for “trivializing” the killing of Black people by law enforcement and being completely disrespectful towards the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not hard to notice that the protest shown in the commercial resembles the protests that have taken place after the murders of innocent Black lives at the hands of law enforcement. An article by the New York Times titled “Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter” explains how viewers condemned Pepsi for its insensitive attempt to “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding.” But instead, the commercial was seen as “appropriating imagery from serious protests to sell its products, while minimizing the danger protesters encounter and the frustration they feel.” New York Times reporter, Daniel Victor, includes how many high profile and accomplished activists — including Dr. Martin Luther king’s daughter — feel that the ad “plays down the sacrifices people have historically taken in utilizing protests.” Bernice King, daughter of Dr. King, and other activists expressed their disappointment in both the company and the model for not educating themselves and acknowledging the harsh reality of Black individuals across America.
Connection between Cancel Culture and Racism: Time to Reconsider Our Favorite Celebrities and Organizations
Cancel culture is the practice of no longer supporting public figures and companies over a controversial or offensive topic, like racism. In response to the tragic deaths of innocent black lives and nationwide protests, celebrities and companies have addressed their efforts to remain anti-racist and alliance regarding Black Lives Matter and racism in the United States. However, many celebrities and organizations have been criticized for their history of tone deaf, racist microagressions and behavior. Many individuals have called out these celebrities and companies for practicing “performative activism”, which is a form of activism that focuses their image rather than their integrity.
A New York Times article titled “Corporate Voices Get Behind ‘Black Lives Matter’ Cause” discusses the significance and potential consequences of major corporations’ decision in acknowledging the national societal issue. Media reporter, Tiffany Hsu, explains how companies often refrain from commenting on sensitive subjects as they are afraid of offending and losing customers. A marketing professor from the University of Pennsylvania, Americus Reed, explained how “speaking out on social issues is often a form of values and identity-driven targeted marketing decision.” By affiliating themselves with customer values, major companies risk their economical and societal status. However, companies that profit off of black culture and its Black employees should be held responsible in acknowledging and advocating for change, regardless if it compromises their economical gain.
Nike, being one of the most successful and popular athletic stores worldwide, is an example of corporations using their platform to raise awareness of racism in America. A CBS News article titled “ Companies touting Black Lives Matter Face Own Workforce Scrutiny,” discusses the company’s past in tackling the racial injustice situation through its marketing campaigns. The company’s most well-known and controversial campaign was in 2018 with former San Francisco 49ers quarter-back, Colin Kaepernick. The campaign was released after the former professional football player caught the attention of President Donald Trump and sparked controversy when kneeling during the national anthem before games on live television. This action ultimately ended Kaepernick’s football career and started the conversation of racial injustices in America.
In addition to the Colin Kaepernick campaign, the company released another video ad urged viewers to recognize the country’s failure in racial equality. By changing the company’s slogan from “Just Do It” to “For once, don’t do it,” the company emphasizes the importance of realizing that there is racial inequality in the United States, especially in criminal justice and workforce. However, after taking a look at the company’s 2019 employee representation in leadership, the CBS article states that “although whites make up less than half — 43% — of its total U.S. workforce, 77% of it’s high-ranking vice presidents company-wide are White.” Therefore, making the percentage of vice presidents that are Black under 10%. An article by Time magazine called “Corporations Say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Here’s What They Need to Do to Show They Mean It,” provides identical data. Author, Pamela Newkirk explains how “The proportion of Black men in management at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees crept from 3% to 3.3%. And while people of color are roughly 40% of the population, they make up around 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs.”
A Washington Post article by founder and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center, Shaun R. Harper, explains how major corporations claim their support towards the Black community, but fail to show it. Millions of Black workers have come together to speak up about the blatant racism and microaggressions they have experienced within their workplace. The article titled “Corporations Say They Support Black Lives Matter. Their Employees Doubt Them,” lists these small but very damaging microaggressions, such as “white colleagues touching their hair without their permission; asking them if it is okay to use the n-word in their presence;…retaliating against Black employees when they attempt to call attention to workplace racism.” It may not seem like a big deal to some, but actions speak louder than words and in Nike’s case, the Black community is under-represented in leadership roles for a company that supposedly stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movements and Black representation. Therefore, it is important for large corporations to keep their promises to their customers and employees to provide equal opportunities for all and be held accountable for acts of anti-blackness and racism or else change will never happen.
Black Lives Do Matter and Here Is How White People Are Responding
Police brutality has been a very important and controversial topic in the discussion of systematic racism. Those opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement have created counter movements, such as All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. These movements not only belittle Black voices and experiences, but completely downplays the 400 years of institutionalized systemic racism in America. This is something that many White and White passing Americans across the country have realized due to recent events. In an article by Amy Harmon and Audra D. S. Burch, titled “White Americans Say They Are Waking Up Racism. What Will It Add Up To?,” the two New York Times reporters discuss how a majority of White Americans are educating themselves and joining the movement after realizing the significance of racial equality.
It is important to recognize that anyone who is not Black or a person of color, does have White privilege. According to Google, White privilege is the “societal priviledge that benefits white people over non-white people in some socieities, particularly in social, political and economical circumstances.” Although most White people refuse to recognize this societal factor, a large majority of individuals have chosen to acknowledge and use their privilege to protect and support the Black community. As mentioned in the article, “large numbers of white Americans have attended racial justice demonstrations, purchased books about racial inequality and registered for webinars on how to raise children who are anti-racist” as attempts to better educate themselves and other non-black individuals around them.
One example of how White Americans are utilizing their White privilege to raise awareness and educate others on the racial inequality in America is Greg Reese. Mr. Reese is a stay-at-home dad from Campton, Kentucky, who discovered that the confederate flag sticker that he has had on the back of his car for six years carried a deeper meaning that he could have never imagined. It was not long before Reese realized that the symbol to which he once saw as “a beautiful trophy” was, in fact, “a symbol of hate” and was wrong to glorify it. This was the first out of the many steps Reese took in utilizing his White privilege. The second step came after watching George Floy’s daughter speak on national television about her father. Gianna Floyd’s words weighed heavy on Greg, which inspired his decision in joining an activist group called Southern Crossroads and creating his own movement called “Rednecks for Black Lives’’. By doing this, Mr. Reese hopes his actions “will appeal to politically conservative friends and neighbors.”
In conclusion, you do not need to be Black or have any connections to the Black community in order to understand that racism is everywhere and affects everyone. The sooner that large corporations and celebrities who we bluntly admire realize the significance of the movement, the faster we can work towards a better society overall. Racism goes beyond the hateful comments and microaggressions, it traces back to the exploitation and killing of Black people and minorities throughout slavery and the founding of America. Black people have never been granted the same privilege as White people because of the color of their skin and their oppression dates as far back to Spanish colonization and the founding of America. By understanding this, it is clear that the only right decision is accepting that systematic racism and white supremacy exist, therefore, is it important to prioritize dismantling racism in America by educating ourselves.
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