When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S., brands quickly stepped up to reassure frightened Americans that they were there for them. In countless campaigns, brands let the public know that they were helping by donating money, making masks and giving consumers grace periods on things like utility and mortgage payments.
But when black Americans are being killed—whether by police as in the case of Minnesota’s George Floyd, who was suffocated by a white police officer who pinned him down by kneeling on his neck on Monday, or in incidents like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and fatally shot by three white neighbors while out on a run in his Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23—the silence of the corporate world can be deafening.
On Friday, the American Psychological Association issued a statement calling racism a pandemic.
“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire,” said APA president Sandra Shullman. “Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.”
Unlike Covid-19, however, the pandemic of racism isn’t new to America. Protests against police killings of black men flood the streets of U.S. cities year after year, yet little changes. And corporations that often preach diversity and inclusion tend to remain oddly silent.
Minneapolis is still reeling today after extensive property damage that happened during the protests, including a police precinct being set on fire and a Target getting looted, among other retailers. Protesters were shot Thursday in both Louisville, Ky., where they gathered to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a black EMT who was fatally shot in her apartment when armed white police officers came in after midnight looking for narcotics in March (no drugs were ever found), and in Denver as protesters gathered demanding justice for George Floyd.
While a majority of brands have remained silent, some are coming forward to align with protesters and take a firm stance against racism.
Nike, which backed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick in a high-profile 2018 campaign, weighed in with a new ad that launched about 7 p.m. Friday. The creative from the brand’s agency, Wieden + Kennedy Portland, takes a simple approach (black background and white lettering, with a swoosh lockup at the end) but with powerful words.
As expected—and similar to the brand’s experience with Kaepernick—reviews were mixed. Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy Gallop pointed out that Nike’s executive team is white (the board, however, includes several African Americans) and implored change.
Nike competitor Reebok provided its own statement, with an Instagram post that stated: “Without the black community, Reebok would not exist. America would not exist.” The second image in the trio from the Adidas-owned athletic brand read: “We are not asking you to buy our shoes. We are asking you to walk in someone else’s.”
YouTube pledged $1 million “in support of efforts to address social justice,” though it’s not exactly clear where the funds are going or what the plan might entail.
In a tweet, media activism organization Sleeping Giants said: “Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. As a platform that has done its very best to avoid having to remove any videos from racists, white supremacists and hate mongers, you should be ashamed of even tweeting about this. Too little, too late.”
Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s took a characteristically bold step forward on Thursday, four years after it issued a similar statement in support of Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Miss., and after launching a campaign in 2019 with Lush to bail black mothers out of jail for Mother’s Day.