The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
$1.3 trillion. That’s how much economic buying power Black Americans have. In global influence, it’s much more and way harder to quantify, though you can see and hear it throughout every fiber of pop culture. Corporations are very well aware of this. As protests take place throughout the nation over the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by Minneapolis police, brands have been a tad bit louder this time around with their support than they have in the past. Millions in corporate funds have been donated to Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations as a way for brands to show that they are aligned with the Black community and that they’re against systemic racism. None of these promises mean anything, however, without immediate action and follow-through because the Black dollar is just as powerful as the Black Twitter’s word-of-mouth spread.
There is no debating that the human rights of Black people are continuously violated in America, yet we remain to be a great repository of swag, lingo, dance, music, physical aesthetics, and continuous creativeness for the world to pick at and use at its disposal — more often than not without credit. Brands are notorious for integrating Black culture into their marketing schemes as a way to communicate with teens and young adults. So, it should make sense for these same companies, during this current climate, to show their support for the people of the culture they seemingly love to borrow from so much. Like comedian Paul Mooney once said, “Everybody wants to be a n**ga, but don’t nobody wants to be a n**ga.”
Back-to-back news about the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, followed by the eight minutes it took for former MPD Derek Chauvin to kill Floyd by kneeling on his neck is infuriating. The city of Minneapolis felt that rage on May 26 when demonstrators flooded the streets in protest, demanding Chauvin be charged, which he later was along with the three other cops involved in the incident that took Floyd’s life.
Target, which headquarters happen to be located in Minneapolis, was set ablaze and looted along with the MPD’s 3rd precinct during the protests. This set off a nationwide trend of some people burning down and looting corporate stores with pleads to leave small businesses alone.
American billionaires made a whopping $434 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic after all. The life of a Black human being should mean more, right? That’s what one would think, but it isn’t lost on the public that many brands would never take that stance in fear of offending their consumer base except this time around, companies really don’t seem to care about what kind of backlash they’d receive by standing in solidarity with protesters.
That’s the stance these companies are taking when they post Black Lives Matter to their Instagram pages, seemingly brave enough to not care whether or not they lose followers or customers. Saying the names of those lost, calling out police brutality by its name, decrying systemic racism by its title, and tagging #BlackLivesMatter are all included in each of their formulated statements. It doesn’t seem genuine enough, though, so a lot of corporations have stepped it up by allocating a portion of their charity budget to the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice organizations for a round of applause.
There is absolutely an economic incentive for brands to align with Black consumers right now and it has to do with the way we shop. According to Neilson, Black people shop with companies that align with their ideals, which include the fight against social injustice. Corporations that do not align with that ideal will be dragged on Twitter for any single faux pas made and they will never escape it without being reminded of the time they used Black culture for their branding campaign, but did not stand with Black people when it was time to do what was right. To avoid a public relations nightmare, brands are being encouraged to embrace Black shoppers in this way.
Forty-eight million deep, Black Americans are young, in their peak earning years, and are learning to use their voices. By 2060, the Black population is expected to hit 60 million. How this moment plays out is very crucial for a lot of brands — and many don’t want to be left on the wrong side of history.
Amazon has donated $10 million, YouTube $1 million, Etsy $1 million, Fashion Nova $1 million, Glossier $500,000; Lululemon $100,000; Honest Beauty $100,000; and Anastasia Beverly Hills $100,000 toward organizations supporting justice and equity, among many other brands. Some big businesses have chosen to make pledges or commitments to donate money including Jordan Brand, which pledged $100 million over four years. Nike vowed $400,000; and Gucci made a statement saying they’d “support” donations but didn’t say how much or when.
Understanding that brands are well aware of Black Americans’ $1.3 trillion buying power — the fact that they are reliably “resilient” consumers and tech-savvy trendsetters — big businesses must also take into account that Black lives are in danger here in America. There’s a serious human rights issue going on and they have to acknowledge the Black American’s plight if they want a piece of the economic pie, as well as its creative workforce.
There’s also a greater power in the Black dollar than it is as an economic force. It’s in the Black dollar’s ability to enact social change throughout history. America’s history is built on the foundation of slave labor from West African men, women and children brought into America and sold off like cattle for hundreds of years. The ebb-and-flow of this country’s entire economic system thrives from a past that is disgraceful, painful and horrific. The normalization of “how Black people are treated versus how white people are treated” by society or the law is a trope that is also made available for consumer entertainment. It is embedded in comedy routines, entire plots of movies, and television shows that Americans pay money to eat up and enjoy for pleasure, making the pain of Black people big business. This is not normal. With the amount of access to information available on the internet, it’s hard to ignore the ugly truth when it’s staring at you in broad daylight for over eight straight minutes.
Yes, brands may enjoy certain parts of Black culture intertwined into their marketing initiatives — possibly the brainchild of their underpaid token Black marketing employee — but history has shown how happy those same businesses are with burying their heads in the sand when it’s time to deal with how it actually feels to be Black. It’s a privilege corporate brands get to indulge in whether they want to battle social justice or not.
We’ll see next year if these brands stick to their financial promises, maintain their Black Lives Matter energy, and make positive changes within their workspaces for Black employees. Companies need to do more than just drop a black square on Instagram, and open their purses for pomp and circumstance. They need to be part of the solution for the dismantlement of systemic racism and become part of the ongoing fight against it. If not, Black consumers will surely take notice.