I was scrolling through Instagram a few weeks ago when the protests in Minneapolis and across the US were at their peak. Like most people, my feed was flooded with news, petitions, and educational posts, but what really struck a me were the hundreds of brand pages posting their own aesthetically pleasing statements in solidarity with the movement. In response, hundreds of thousands of users applauded these brand pages while pledging to buy their products based on the stance they had taken. After looking through this endless praise, I couldn't help but wonder: that's it?
It seems absurd to look towards corporations as moral institutions. After all, corporations exist purely to offer their products and reap profit. Do we really need to see Instagram captions the length of the entire Great Gatsby novel chastising racism to feel good about ourselves? Unfortunately, that might be the case.
As consumers, Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to make purchases based on their own values. From sustainable fashion to social/political statements, brands have had to change the way they pander to the issues that matter to these generations. And from the perspective of the consumer, it makes total sense. Ethical consumerism provides a temporary relief from the despair and hopelessness some might feel when faced with today's world. Where protesting, petitioning local government, and other forms of activism can be frustrating and yield little results, buying from a company that claims to share one's views is an easier way to feel like one is making a difference.
But as our world continues to change and information is more accessible than ever, the simple hashtag or little black square is no longer enough. Uoma CEO, Sharon Chuter, launched her campaign Pull Up For Change to combat brands using Black Lives Matter as a trendy marketing technique. The organization began by demanding transparency of leadership roles in makeup brands. While Glossier publicly pledged their support for BLM, they revealed that black people only make up 9% of their corporate staff with zero holding leadership positions. Today, their Instagram account shows the racial demographics of popular brands, clearly showing how performative gestures mean nothing in terms of actual progress.
So what is enough? The answer will vary person by person and structural progress moving forward will take time. Change is possible and accountability is important, but looking towards corporate entities for any of this can only grant short-term self gratification.