“It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it [racism] out.” Michelle Obama
“They’re lucky Black people are looking for equality and not revenge.” Kimberly Jones
Over the last two weeks, net public support for Black Lives Matter has risen 11 percent—as much as it did over the past two years. This week, we continue our analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, looking specifically at youth activism and brand responses.
A YOUTH ENERGIZED MOVEMENT
While the Black Lives Matter revolution has broad appeal and relevance, this is a youth-energized movement. In terms of support for anti-racist behaviour and policies, younger generations appear to be getting more and more progressive compared to older ones. According to a recent NY Times piece, Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to say they believe the police are prone to racist behavior. Younger generations are also more than twice as likely to support reparations for slavery, compared with older generations. In addition, nine out of 10 under 35 year olds said they did not trust the police to treat people of all races equally — higher than in any other age group.
We are actively listening to and speaking with young people (of all races) to get their perspective. When not taking to the streets to protest and dance, many are using social media to share suggested actions and to process and articulate their feelings about these issues. There is a focus on proactively empowering and enabling others to self educate by sharing resources for learning that help explore the theme of systemic racism further.
“Celebrating Black life is not simply to mourn it; it is to affirm it.” Wanjiku Gatheru, 21, US
“Our entire lives have been upside down. We've had to get used to walking on ceilings." Yara (يارا) Shahidi, 20, Minneapolis
"I feel very optimistic… It’s been beautiful seeing people sharing their experiences and people engaging with it and committing to becoming better educated and more well informed about the topic. I feel like the pandemic has positively impacted the much needed talk about racism in our society. I think that's because people are at home and on social media more often so they are coming across peoples experiences, engaging in dialogue and sharing their own experience. I think the message is more impactful as people have more time to absorb its content and ask 'how do I become part of the solution?'" - Ahmed, 21, Ireland
Text-based instagram posts (often published in gallery format and shared widely in IG stories) have become hugely popular, as young people shift from visual-based content to prioritising material that actually adds value to the conversation and is useful to people’s education around race issues. Alongside this, many are making a conscious effort to elevate Black voices online by sharing content. Instagram pages/initiatives that have gained traction over the last week include @black_andirish and @sharethemicnow.
It also comes as no surprise that TikTok continues to strengthen as a key channel for political activism and youth dialogue around #BlackLivesMatter. Creators like @naomiibrookk @urdoingreat @kaizatronand @laysieeeb are posting about racial injustice 30 seconds at a time - recognising that as people with platforms they have a responsibility to educate others about the topic. An original sound ‘graphic design is the cure to racism’ by @joyoladokun became a viral TikTok joke about corporations putting graphics on social media in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
BRANDS CONTINUE TO RESPOND
Edelman’s special Barometer report (based on US audience) on the topic of brands and racial justice reveals that:
- 60% of people say they will buy or boycott based on a brand’s response to current protests
- 60% of people agree that brands should publicly speak out on systemic racism and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd and other recent racially motivated attacks on Blacks
- 60% of people agree that brands must invest in addressing the root causes of racial inequality
- 63% of people agree that brands and companies that issue a statement in support of racial equality need to follow it up with concrete action to avoid being seen by me as exploitative or as opportunists
The data indicates that not only are people expecting brands to take a stance, they are expecting them to be key players in creating change. This is even more so the case when it comes to younger audiences - 44% of 18-34 year olds ‘want brands to stand with them.’
This extensive document collates 75+ brand responses to Black Lives Matter, and this tracker contains more real time updates. As brands continue to respond - some even bidding farewell to racist followers on social media - young people are responding by saying - ‘okay, now show me your board.’ Internal action must be a priority for brands that want to show their support for any social cause.
“Brands exist within a socio-political world, they are not separate from it. They are shaped by people and they cannot, and should not, behave as if they’re not... For brands without a heritage in taking action in support of positive social justice, getting involved is about acknowledging the journey society is on and how your brand has contributed to the problem or the solution...” Jane McDaid, Founder, Thinkhouse in the Sunday Business Post
The major call to action for individuals and businesses, wherever they are in the journey, at this moment in time is to do the work - continue to listen to Black voices and learn more about systemic racism in order to make change and dismantle white supremacy.
This is not simply a global moment of soul-searching. Black Lives Matter is a clear manifestation of the need and desire for collective healing and regeneration as we emerge to live new realities, together.
“There is no right way to feel during any of what we are going through, but there absolutely is a right way to act. Stand up against injustice.” - Donna Alexander
Have you found yourself having some tough, uncomfortable conversations this week? Good. This is what change feels like. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable and different. It’s supposed to feel personal. It’s supposed to feel political. It’s supposed to raise more questions. It’s ok not to know exactly what to say or do just yet, but it’s not okay to do nothing. Racism is something that all individuals, companies and sectors need to address - the problem is irrefutable. Grab a shovel, keep digging and do the right thing. A kinder human environment and kinder human behaviours are truly inspiring objectives to hold time and space for. Communication is crucial - silence taken as complicity. Internal work is paramount in ensuring you are not virtue signalling.
Take it as a given that young people are ahead of you on this journey (and likely thinking more progressively) - if you don’t do the work to catch up now, it’ll be much much tougher in the future.
While you are in this process, note that it’s a privilege to be educating yourself on racism rather than experiencing it. Don’t put the responsibility on Black people to educate you on this issue- the resources are there for you to be able do the work (of course if you have close colleagues, friends or family who are Black and willing to talk to you about this that is brilliant, but remember this is a white problem to fix).