blm, activism, racism

#BLM Isn’t For-Profit. Your Business’ Activism Shouldn’t Be Either

By Sydney Bernardo

Don’t get us wrong – we don’t think your business should abandon the idea of profit altogether. We just think your business must put its values first. Especially now.

It’s difficult to imagine a recent year that is more chaotic than this one. Between battling a mass pandemic and the consistent murders of Black people, we’ve had to consider some difficult questions. Why does our culture perpetuate racism? What truths have we avoided because they were uncomfortable? What is the role of businesses in creating inclusivity?

These questions aren’t new. Many People of Color have been facing these truths for decades. But only recently have these topics entered mainstream dialogue. In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was created after the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager named Trayvon Martin after his murderer was acquitted. The movement grew further after a white police officer murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014.

Companies reacted with cautious, conservative support of the protests. Spotify released a Black Lives Matter playlist comprised of music from Black artists. The playlist description read “songs to support the message of the #blacklivesmatter movement”. Apple Music shared a statement that urged for justice, but did not mention race or the movement. Facebook hung a sign in support of Black Lives Matter in front of their California headquarters. Businesses prioritized profits and stakeholders by not doing anything “too controversial”, yet gave enough support to satisfy societal pressure to respond.

Four years later, our Black community and their allies are no longer content with condolences. Companies with past discrimination or silence are facing the consequences. The Washington Redskins tweeted a black square with the caption “#BlackOutTuesday”. They were met with comments pointing out their hypocrisy, including one Twitter user saying “thank you, Washington racial slurs, for standing against racism.”

Other businesses, like Ben & Jerry’s, are gaining massive support for their actions in support of Black Lives Matter. Not to mention that Ben & Jerry’s allied with the movement long before it was expected of businesses. Customers are holding businesses to higher moral standards. And rightfully so.

It’s time to talk about values. The fight against racism is one that we all need to be a part of. This comes from the inside. It comes from a business owner deciding to donate part of their income to minority-supporting organizations or prioritizing purchasing from Black-owned and People of Color-owned businesses. It comes from white employees recognizing discrimination and demanding equality. It comes from companies owning up to past practices and dedicating themselves to change.

Sometimes learning and changing for the better is the best activism. Disney is “re-theming” Splash Mountain, which was originally based on the 1946 film “Song of the South”, a movie considered so racist that Disney removed it from circulation 30 years ago. Other companies are responding by eliminating racially charged marketing (e.g., Aunt Jemima, Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Butterworth). Those are steps in the right direction.

Real, meaningful change comes from creating the right company culture and aligning business practices to solve specific problems. Greyston Bakery, the sole provider of brownies to Ben & Jerry’s, specifically built their business model to create a positive social impact, empower employees, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. They opened their first factory in “one of Yonkers’ most troubled neighborhoods”. Greyston achieves their mission by being intentional and embedding their values in their decision-making process. They made sure their new factory was easily accessible via public transportation and central to where employees live. More impressively, they use an open-hiring policy with no resumes, interviews, drug tests, or background checks – you put your name on a list and are hired without question on a next-served basis. This practice eliminates barriers and drives diversity in their workforce.

This is not a time for half-hearted activism. Black squares and hashtags can only carry a movement so far. It’s time to re-evaluate the world so many have become comfortable in.

So let’s talk about it! What can your business do to support the Black Lives Matter movement and more actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, and create an anti-racist culture? How will you live your values every day?

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