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Let's Talk Human Rights

Is it real concern for change or just for the clout?

By Erika Cambron '23

No, posting a black square on your Instagram feed for #BlackOutTuesday does not give you social justice points, forgive all of your microaggressions, nor does it give you the right to profit off of the suffering of millions of Black Americans. 

#BlackOutTuesday was a worldwide social media-based protest in light of the murder of George Floyd and the countless Black men and women who have died at the hands of law enforcement. This simple act was meant to drown out and stop the spread of false information about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on social media and a way for all people to stand in solidarity. 

While this was a step in the right direction, there have been past occurrences where companies have taken advantage of public outcry about an issue to make themselves appear involved in the movement, as a means for self-promotion. This is an effective marketing technique in our vocal society where we easily approve or 'cancel' any person or company for the way they respond to current events. 

I have been an active member of human rights movements and advocacy since I was a freshman in high school. I have done mainly ‘behind the scenes’ work, attending protests, and respectfully educating those around me. This summer I took the HRS 200 class online and although this blog was an assignment, it inspired me to write about something that has been in the back of my mind.

Celebrities, corporations, and companies using human rights movements to gain publicity and profit can be counterproductive to the mission of the movement. Not only does it promote false promises of more diversity but also discredits the real organizations fighting injustices by oversimplifying the importance of activism and advocacy. While brands hiring more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) is a step towards equity and representation, that action alone should not be the end of the brand’s social justice campaign. Not only do BIPOC want to be represented in the media but we want anti-discriminatory legislation, socioeconomic change, and a seat at the big table where we can help make decisions to improve our communities and help make holistic change. 

Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Gucci have been using the BLM movement to raise their ‘urban’ audience numbers and promote a diversity that only exists in their ads, while doing little to nothing to actually help the Black community thrive. Using people of color for branding purposes can create a false image of representation, while distracting from an internal lack of diversity and inclusion within the company. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane: It’s 2017. You’re watching your favorite TV show when all of a sudden Kendall Jenner pops up in a denim-clad outfit marching with a protest group and finally, stopping in front of the authorities, holds out a peace offering of a can of Pepsi and “voila,” Kendall Jenner has solved racism. Except that’s not how it works. Kendall Jenner saw the opportunity for more exposure and money, while trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jenner is not the only one to blame for this poorly thought out advertisement; Pepsi was of course at the center of this. Its version of an apology? Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, removed the ad and released a statement saying, the goal was never to offend anyone and that the commercial was meant to represent ‘people in happiness coming together.’ Nooyi also said that as much as she tried to find something wrong with the message of the ad, she could only see it from a place of love and compassion. Right. The people who are aware of and experience the actual injustices plaguing our country make valid comparisons between the pictures in the ad and pictures of actual activists and civil rights movements. 

Erin Mazursky, founder and former CEO of RHIZE, spoke on a webinar at the University of Dayton about digital activism and advocacy and provided an important take on the rise of protests and civil disobedience over the last few years. Mazursky explained in the webinar, “There have been more protests in the last ten years than in the first half of the twentieth century.” She says that the pandemic is something governments should be ‘thankful’ for because it has slowed down the worldwide protests temporarily. Widespread demonstrations show  the changing sentiment of societies all over the world about using the power of protesting to amplify their voices and missions. Social and other media has played a role in creating our current social advocacy climate by empowering and resourcing younger generations, from grassroots activism to using TikTok as a bridge to connect people to resources and organizations. 

Despite the positive examples of the media as a tool for activism, the exploitation of Black suffering for relevance, profit, and tax write-offs remains an issue. In the midst of the protests in California, there were celebrities who took to the streets as allies but there never seems to be a lack of self-absorbed ‘influencers’ who hold  a sign, take a picture, then leave. These influencers take interest in the Black Lives Matter movement not out of genuine concern for racial justice, but rather, for the personal exposure they’ll get from the photo op. 

This kind of insensitivity and ignorance by businesses and influencers has often overshadowed the success of actual human rights movements and makes our current pop culture seem like a joke. For us, as consumers of corporate brands as well as people’s personal brands, we must be mindful of what they are buying and endorsing. By liking or purchasing, we support the facade our favorite brands uphold when they post a black square on their feed, though they may still use sweatshops and sell products that amplify police surveillance. Instead of waiting for a corporate apology from your favorite brand, I strongly suggest looking into smaller brands, companies, and influencers that provide the same if not better service, product, or entertainment. Not only are you boosting the economy by shopping small, you can also be a part of some individual entrepreneur or micro company’s growth during a time when small businesses are at risk due to COVID-19. 

The momentum of the BLM movement has allowed black-owned businesses to be spotlighted and for black influencers to be supported. Forbes released a list of Black-owned businesses to check out, many of which are also sustainable and are advocates for many causes aside from BLM such as women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights. So, next time there is a social media protest, make sure to look into more than just who a company features on the cover and explore its paper trail of human rights advocacy and activism. We must do better and hold corporations, celebrities and companies accountable for the change we want to see in the world, while not losing focus of the main goal: equal rights and protection for all.

 


Erika Cambron '23 is an English major and a student in the HRS 200 course.

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