Black Lives Matter. It’s a movement, an organisation, a slogan – all centred around a clear, simple statement. From it stems all sorts of questions: do Black lives matter today? If not, how do we make Black lives matter? Three words have revived this the struggle to find the answer to these questions.
The use of this slogan has sadly made it vulnerable to cynical use by those wishing to curry favour with the masses. Politicians who have, covertly or openly, impoverished and traumatised Black communities can brandish it as a shield against any criticisms.
“I’m not racist, I just tweeted #blacklivesmatter!”
The same goes for companies. Recently, corporations have hastily rushed out statements on support on their social media. Their absolute silence on issues affecting the Black community up until now is not down to forgivable ignorance. Instead, these brands are making a calculated move to jump on the political bandwagon of Black liberation. After, and even during the protests of 2014, they continued exploiting Black workers.
In a survey conducted in 2017, 1 in 3 companies said they used more diverse models in photographs to avoid being perceived as discriminatory. This is clearly a cynical ploy to adapt to a more progressive society, not a genuine desire to support the anti-racism movement.
Earlier this month, multinational company Unilever lectured other companies on not being opportunistic about BLM and the COVID outbreak. Instead, businesses should be genuine in their support of those struggling. Their sister company, Dove, has launched campaigns such as “Courage is Beautiful” and “Dove Real Beauty Pledge” to improve visibility of frontline workers and different bodies respectively. Meanwhile, in Africa and South Asia, Unilever sells ‘Fair and Lovely’ products – skin-whitening creams for those ashamed of their dark skin. Ultimately, black wallets matter, and exploiting harmful anti-blackness globally shows that Black lives don’t matter to corporations like Dove and Unilever.
Another famous example ofpandering to the BLM movement: Pepsi’s pathetic advert with Kendall Jenner. Placards with weak, bland slogans, and a Pepsi can as some sort of olive wreath. The deliberate attempt to de-fang the movement with “why can’t we all just get along” fell flat on its face. Companies have such little investment in Black lives that they couldn’t even replicate the tone of the actual protests. Their hypocrisy is all the more grating considering PepsiCo was fined millions for employment discrimination against African-American candidates, and has been responsible for vicious land grabs in Brazil.
Judging by the placards at demonstrations worldwide, the BLM movement isn’t just centred around George Floyd’s violent death. Decades of police brutality and mass incarceration have left the streets with corpses and the prisons overcrowded. With the calls for more customers to frequent Black-owned business, or “buy black”, we see also the economic devastation unleashed on the Black community. But this solution fails to resolve Black poverty and oppression.
At the end of the day, Black lives don’t matter in corporate boardrooms and profit margins. The ruling class values financial gain as more important than the welfare of the Black community. Whether it’s beauty companies preying on the hatred of dark skin or multinationals exploiting poor people of colour to boost profits, capitalism is indifferent to Black lives. Not just Black lives, either. Around the world, workers of all colours suffer immense injustice to this day.
The movement for Black lives should reject these corporate attempts at co-opting the movement. To do so, organisers should look to their predecessors in the Civil Rights movement. Their demands were often radical and concrete: an end to segregation, more employment for Black workers, investment in health and education. These revolutionary movements have been weakened by corporate involvement. Parallels can be found in the co-opting of LGBT+ Pride by companies (including the police!). The images of police kneeling for BLM, then assaulting protestors immediately afterwards, speaks to their rank hypocrisy. There is no salvation or freedom under the rule of capital.
If we recognise racism as systemic, then we must address the system. Capitalism has betrayed Black people at every turn: from the horrors of slavery to the isolation of segregation, and even now the economic devastation and state-sanctioned violence against Black communities. An alternative system is possible, one in which Black lives are not measured in profits, and once in which there is no ruling class using racism to divide and conquer the working class.
Under a socialist society, equality is not just a corporate slogan or an end-goal, but a tangible, concrete reality. Money won’t be hoarded by these conveniently pro-Black lives companies, leaving Black communities impoverished and exploited. Vulnerable Black workers, like Belly Mujinga, won’t be thrown onto the frontline in the fight against COVID (or deported once they’ve served their purpose to the ruling class). Poor Black families won’t have to live in housing with flammable cladding just so some companies can enjoy larger profits. Globally, Black people in the developing world won’t be exploited to line the pockets of Western CEOs and shareholders. Socialism offers what capitalism can never provide: a system based on human need, not greed.
Dr Rahul Mehta is the founder of Diaspora Diaries, a student-run magazine at UEA for BAME voices. To learn more about what we do and how you can help, follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DiasporaDiariesUEA/.