#Woke The Brand: Are we witnessing true solidarity against racism?

First, a handful of major corporations. A few influential institutions followed, with some notable individuals soon after. Then, the floodgates truly burst open and we were swept into phase one – false solidarity.

It became a struggle to keep up with the surge expressions of solidarity spilling from corporations, prominent institutions and governments around the world in response to Black Lives Matter protests. I found myself swinging between feeling pleased and confused at the global support. This isn’t the first time people have spoken out against racism. Why now?

“the best we could get was partaking in their deep love affair with diversity panels”

What has always rattled me the most were inferences that racism is an accidental occurrence. Something that just happens, somehow. That it is a phenomenon so complex and mysterious. Nothing to do with an institutional will. They care, and they want to see an end to all this discrimination. They just don’t know how to end it. They hope to figure it out soon though. In the meantime, business as usual.

Even those wanting to be seen as people of action, the best we could get was partaking in their deep love affair with diversity panels. Their way of acting concerned yet doing very little. Plus an array of token ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ positions that I consider rather ‘back of the bus’ ploys. A strong sense of “you can join us, but in a role that won’t advance your skills, or earn you very much. Oh, and you have to do all the heavy lifting in tackling our deep-rooted issues. We might not listen though.” In desperation to ‘get the word out’, people of colour have long felt compelled to engage with the distraction tactics that keep us answering for and explaining the issues in a system designed to fall on deaf ears and maintain the status quo.

But here I was, seeing not just what appeared to be accountability, but intentions to change and plans of how they will change it.

“meaningless platitudes to preempt skeletons being hauled out of the closet”

Though after the corporate swarm of solidarity came rebuttals from former employees. Stories of racist bullying, harassment and racially charged wrongful terminations exposed the insincerity of these companies. The spotlight shifted from public issues of police brutality and racist allegiances to the private, racist environments cultivated inside their walls.

Refinery29 on the surface appears a beacon of tolerance, as a progressive media organisation heavily involved in activism. Yet floods of complaints of discrimination against black former employees led to the Editor-In-Chief stepping down.

This seemed to trigger the next phase – meaningless platitudes to preempt skeletons being hauled out of the closet. The sudden rush to rectify deliberate actions that displayed not just racism, but a strong will to maintain the racist environment by punishing those that spoke out against it was a previous norm.

L’Oreal ignited controversy when they sacked transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf from a campaign after she spoke out about white supremacy online. Despite public outcry, L’Oreal maintained their stance on her firing. Yet now, L’Oreal claim to have awakened to the error of their ways, committing to donate to a Black activist group and making Bergdorf an offer of a diversity and inclusion role with them. Bergdorf announced her acceptance of the position with L’oreal, despite its stench of tokenism.

“I can’t help but find it naive to think we had business leaders and governments truly taking a good look at themselves in the mirror”

Now, we appear to have swiftly moved towards the final and most powerful stage of the insincerity – the ‘pointless acts’ phase. This is where the powers that be ensure all this talk of equality comes to an abrupt end. The campaign of giving undue attention to the resolution of problems that no one asked for in order to make demands for justice appear unreasonable.

L’Oreal is at it again with their pledge to remove the word ‘whitening’ from skin lightening products, as opposed to stopping their sale of such products. Instead of realtors lobbying financial organisations to ensure fair access to homeownership, they are dropping the use of ‘Master’ to describe bedrooms and bathrooms.

Black activists haven’t asked for any of this. These gestures serve to derail from genuine concerns by racialising random topics to give the illusion that Black activism is fuelling overzealous political correctness. I suppose it is unsurprising that companies are accelerating themselves into the home stretch of faux activism by gaslighting their way back to the status quo.

I can’t help but find it naive to think we had business leaders and governments truly taking a good look at themselves in the mirror with the resulting urge to wholeheartedly support Black activism. Perhaps it was just another bandwagon – though one that served the Black community well for a change.

What it has done is show what most people of colour already knew. There was never a real need for endless panels or debates. There was always an awareness of racism. And it has always been possible to take actions to resolve it. Even overnight.

Image by Clay Banks via a Creative Commons license