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We’ve effectively reached the point in the Black Lives Matter movement where empathy isn’t enough. Condemning racism isn’t a massive feat, especially for the companies and millionaires who owe the majority of their success to Black culture. Social media is an undeniably powerful tool in activism, but it’s far from being the only one in the arsenal. In a late-stage capitalistic society, monetary value needs to be provided for the sentiment of the wealthy to truly be meaningful.
As a whole, we need to be mindful of being overly congratulatory towards a multi-million dollar company posting a very carefully worded statement that has been tossed around the public relations department for a week. Don’t be too impressed that they found the perfect way to say, “Black people shouldn’t be murdered.” This should be expected, this isn’t a controversial statement, and this isn’t impressive. We need to see these companies using their economic influence to both promote policy change and directly provide direct support to the cause. Often, the statements these companies put out are watered down and don’t even utter the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
As if you needed another reason to hate Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s statement is a prime example of performative activism. Amazon posted a very vague message saying they “stand in solidarity with the Black community.” According to Forbes, there were no donations made on the company’s behalf towards any organizations affiliated with Black Lives Matter at the time of posting.
In case you needed a refresher on Amazon, they’re notorious for the shocking treatment of warehouse workers in regards to timed bathroom breaks and a high number of ambulance call-outs. On top of this, a public filing from 2014 revealed that 85 percent of Amazon’s African American workers held warehouse and unskilled positions. After being berated with criticism for this hypocrisy by the public and major news outlets, Amazon then pledged $10 million to different causes benefiting the Black community. If we take one thing away from this, it should be that bullying Amazon is not only super fun but also surprisingly effective.
On a more personal level, the use of social media needs to be focused around amplifying Black voices, promoting donation links, sharing accurate information on protests, and avoiding shallow virtue signaling. This has been notably ignored by predominantly white celebrities, who popularized the misuse of #BlackOutTuesday. The posting of blank screens with no information by large amounts of people effectively muffled Black voices for the entirety of the day.
For an example of celebrity performative activism, we turn to Lea Michele. After tweeting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Glee co-star Samantha Marie Ware outed Michele for making life on the show “a living hell” for her. She also stated that Michele even threatened to shit in her wig. After Ware came forward, multiple Glee co-stars publicly expressed their support, and some even shared similar experiences with Michele. In response to this, Lea Michele did what any reasonable human being would do– open the notes app.
What I will give her credit for, unlike Amazon, is that this apology definitely did not go through a publicist. This is evidenced by the fact that it’s god awful. This is a pinnacle example of a wealthy celebrity with a history of Anti-Blackness using this tragedy to virtue signal, and luckily not getting away with it.
Coming from a position of privilege, as a white person, our role in this movement has to look different than it has previously. We can’t use the crutch of simply spreading awareness. We need to utilize our advantage in this society. This includes holding companies and influencers accountable for their contributions. We can’t look for some sort of perfect Instagram post to be a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for activism, especially when there are literal bail funds we can support. If you’re looking for ways to help and are unsure of how to start, here’s a helpful link.
Cover Image: Ilka Hartmann, “Mao Aloft”
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