Black. A word that often denotes negativity, black heart or soul, blacklisted when you’re unwelcome, black sheep when you’re a disgrace, just to name a few. Black. A word that is meant to represent a culture, a people, a movement. Over the last six months, we’ve experienced people of all colors, shapes, and creeds being affected by the Covid-19 virus. We’ve seen a number of protests, articles, video messages, etc. about the need for security, protection, and togetherness when dealing with the impact of said virus. Brands like Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour were quick to work with the communities to manufacture masks and other protective equipment for people working on the front lines. They did this without having prolonged conversation, without social media pressure, and they were able to make this happen relatively quickly and with great success. Similar to Covid, we’re dealing with another societal crisis, one that has had a significant social media campaign, one that has been championed by celebrities and activists, and one that’s gone on a lot longer than the covid pandemic. And yet, there has been a disproportionate response to this crisis.
Those reading are aware of the ongoing protests and the deaths of protestors. If you aren’t aware of this, please read up on it or just turn on the news. Because of the ongoing protests and unrest, brands have had no choice but to respond, and some have done this better than others. On Tuesday, those responses were seen vividly on IG with the Blackout Tuesday posts that began trending. For those brands who jumped on this bandwagon, with all due respect, we don’t need social media posts. Words mean nothing when not backed up by action. These brands for years have taken advantage of black people and black culture and black bodies, whether it be by shoe releases that focus on targeting black culture, using black celebrities to bring in demand for their products, or having black people be the face of your brand (ie: signature shoes).
To be candid, being a black man in America right now and seeing what’s going on with companies that are making social media posts and stating their stance on inclusivity, I can’t help but think, “Go F*** Yourself”. These are the same brands that have had a number of lawsuits against them for not being diverse enough. We’ve seen the former CEO of UA support a President that, despite your political leanings, has proven himself to be divisive when it comes to speaking about the diversity of American Culture. Adidas as of a year ago was represented by only 3 Black VPs out of 340 and as of June 2019, less than 4.5% of 1,700 employees at their headquarters were black. Many black employees at Adidas have reported feeling undervalued and marginalized in a sea of white employees. Nike’s VPs are less than 20% diverse, but it’s unclear how much of that percentage represents black employees. They say they stand for equality and that together is how we move forward on various social media platforms, but they have yet to showcase that this is something they truly believe in.
Nike and Jordan brand have had limited shoe releases that are marketed in a way to generate hype and this has resulted in deaths from people in black communities who want so desperately to have this sought after item that they will murder for it. While I know companies can’t directly stop people from acting in a certain way, the brand was completely silent on this issue with no support or feedback into how we can address these issues. Where were you then when people were dying over your brand? Nothing was said. Now you want to be vocal because it’s what everyone else is doing. Nike brands to women that they should “dream crazier”, but allowed for a missed opportunity for bringing in a female CEO this year. The same thing happened with Under Armour. Under Armour had the chance to show they are making progress, especially after their past CEO spoke in favor of a divisive president. These actions made Steph Curry, the face of the brand, feel as though the brand didn’t care about him or what he stands for. Instead of listening to their most powerful black voice, they decided to allow their CEO to continue to antagonize their biggest athlete. So, I find it hard to believe they suddenly care about black lives. What they have shown they care about is black money and black influence.
George Floyd’s tragic death was not the first of its kind, there have been numerous wrongful deaths of innocent black men, women and non gender conforming individuals. Why is it only now that brands are speaking up? It looks like a bandwagon move to make it seem like they are on board with the BLM movement. If we really mattered that much, there would be comments every single time an unjust death occurred. Back in 2014, numerous players wore “I can’t breathe” t-shirts to honor the injustice that happened to Eric Garner. Now six years later, George Floyd’s painful utterance of those same words finally has you responding? Where have you been this whole time? What is the difference now and how are you going to change? To have so many black people representing your brand, making you tons of money, and making your brand what it is today, how will those voices be heard at your company? What can we do to be “enough”? These companies like to set bars in a way to justify not taking black people onboard in decision-making roles. Employees have spoken out about this for years, and still the best we can get are empty promises. We aren’t fooled by the lack of effort, a few words now does not change things. Using us to market to us, when will we get a seat at this table to be a part of discussions that affect us?
I’m tired of being told we aren’t worth it, that we aren’t good enough. We are told we aren’t qualified enough, and when we are qualified we are told there aren’t enough spaces left at the table. We are told if we only work harder we could be there, but it’s becoming clear that there is no amount of work that gives us the corporate voice we deserve. If that’s how you want to do business, fine, but don’t come after black money. When the Me Too movement began, brands said the same thing, all while having sexual harassment cases pending and a huge disparity in female leadership. Don’t jump on board because you have to make a PR move, be on board because you believe it’s right, and if you don’t, then take your business elsewhere. In China, NBA is huge and players like LeBron are idolized. This is great, but what is concerning is the silence brands have had when racial issues have emerged. Brands have to think about their players in these situations, but they have been too concerned about profits over their people. Given how these issues are now being addressed in the US, how will brands react to racism in other markets? Will they turn a blind eye or will they stand up for what is right even at the risk of profits?
I love these brands and I’ve been a fan for years, but it’s hard when I don’t see these brands doing enough. I want to see them supporting us the way we support their business, especially when so much of their success is based off of our culture. This isn’t about having token black employees or token women employees, it’s about actually wanting those voices at the table. Brands take advantage of black people and culture on a daily basis, but can’t be bothered to put us in a position of power within the company. Changing the thought process and changing the mentality is the next step. If you’re going to write a book about parenting, who would you’d like to get perspectives from? Probably parents. Same thing goes for products marketed to black culture – why wouldn’t you want someone who understands black culture at the executive table?