The Commodification of Wokeness: Brands That See us Until It’s Time to Really See Us
Wokeness is a term that the Cambridge dictionary defines as a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality. Originated by our African-American cousins from across the pond, wokeness has brought to light the large amount of anti-black racism that is not only happening in America but is also endured across the diaspora. Although the term woke has been weaponized and often used as a silencing tactic - whenever we, as black people, speak up about the injustices we continue to face - the rise of social media has given us the space to be more vocal. Now more than ever with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Brands are good at participating in black culture by joining in on the latest trending topics and memes that we’ve made go viral, attaching their logo, their name and their products to popular artists songs and music videos, even sponsoring content that has high engagement because they know they can use it as a commodity. But when it comes to our “wokeness”, which is becoming a more visible part of Black culture, their silence is deafening.
We’ve seen this happening with brands such as Pretty Little Thing who’ve created campaigns, music videos, songs and fashion shows using Sahweetie, Ashanti and The Migos, making their presence known in the comment section of Verzus clashes and even sponsored rapper Tory Lanez notorious Quarantine Radio with a $20,000 “donation” for the twerkathon as a way of cementing their brand in what we make trend on social media.
But when the news of George Floyd’s murder, captured on video, went viral, and social media were flooded with calls for justice and donation requests for his family, Pretty Little Thing was initially nowhere to be found.
Until beauty influencer Jackie Aina called them out along with other brands and low-key influencers and celebrities who have displayed questionable behavior in relation to the black community. Originally PLT posted a generic illustration and tweet on their twitter account followed by the standard thoughts & prayers comment to demonstrate their solidarity. We weren’t having it, not this time. So Jackie, with her privilege of being one of the top influencers in the beauty industry, used her platform to speak directly to these brands and suggest better ways they could show their solidarity beyond thoughts & prayers type posts.
But some brands did open their purse. LuluLemon donated a $100,000 to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Glossier donated $500K across a variety of organisations focused on combating racial injustice (such as Black Lives Matter, The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute and We The Protestors) and allocated another $500K to create grants for Black-owned beauty businesses. Also Makeup Revolution donated $10,000 to the Minnestota Freedom Fund along with REN Clean skin who donated an undisclosed amount of money to Black Lives Matter and UGG with their $50,000 donation to the American Civil Liberties Union.
It seems Jackie’s influence had an impact not only on the brands she was mentioning directly but also the others who followed suit. Since speaking up she’s had phone calls with FashionNova’s CEO, who asked for feedback on what they can do, and PLT have called for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor & Ahmaud Arbery in a series of new tweets, as well as donated an undisclosed amount to their families and dedicated all of the profits made from their At Home With Saweetie collection to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although this is a good start, we can’t help but notice that certain brands and PR’s seem to see this as nothing more than just another social media trend.
Square Black boxes, Staying Silent is Not An Option and Black Lives Matter posts are being shared on social media to show support towards the Black community but a different story is being told behind the screens by a number of people. Writer & BET’s Style Director Danielle Prescod advised the luxury brand Net A Porter to “Keep that same energy on your influencer trips and brand associations. This is not historical with you and we know.” after they made a post in relation to Black Lives Matter.
The post inflicted feelings of irony as several users shared experiences of Black people who have worked for Net A Porter, such as @queensophie_101 who wrote “AWKWARD MOMENT WHEN YOU’VE SEEN NET-A-PORTER UNFAIRLY DISMISS BLACK EMPLOYEES AND HAVE AN OPENLY RACIST CULTURE AND WORKING ENVIRONMENT.”
Another example is L’Oreal Paris who dropped Model & Activist Munroe Bergdorf as an ambassador for their true match foundation campaign in 2017 for speaking out about racism, while the very thing they’re referring to in their is actually “speaking out”.
The thing is that we need brands (as everyone else) to understand that this is more than just a social media trend, this is our everyday lives. Are there any black people in your company, teams, campaigns, instagram feeds and on your PR list? If so, are you paying them the same amount as everyone else? Are you posting, hiring or giving opportunities to a variety of black women or do you only select a token few? Are you following them or friends with any? If so, is it safe enough for them to speak out about any racist behaviour you or others may have displayed without you getting defensive, dismissing them or ignoring it? Staying Silent Is No Longer A Option but have you spoken out when you’ve witnessed racist behaviour from your colleagues, friends, or even family members?
“Black Culture is cool, but Black issues sure aren’t huh?” - Azealia Banks
On an individual level, if you’re a non-black person that listens to Grime, Hip Hop, Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Afrobeats, Funk, Soul, Reggae, Dancehall, Trap, R&B, Pop and even K-POP music; sleeps with, lusts after and procreates with black bodies; uses AAVE or slang; wears box braids, dreadlocks, cornrows or slicks down your edges; enjoys holidays in the Caribbean or Africa; attends Notting Hill Carnival or UK Black Pride; likes to get “lit” with us in the club and wants us to teach you how to twerk, whine or Vogue; uses the N-word because it sounds cool in our music, uses Martin Luther King quotes or #AllLivesMatter hashtag, even uses black emojis every now and then… just know that none of those things would exist if we didn’t exist.
You like being a part of our culture, right? Well #BlackLivesMatter is black culture, so let your presence be known through actions not just a hashtag.
Written by Julie Wright
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