A few months ago I noticed just how popular being “socially aware” and “activism” in general was. And just how quickly companies were capitalising on this. You had Natwest – “supporting local businesses”, Nescafé – “surprises for hard working mum’s”. And of course recently we had the uproar with Pepsi massively failing with their protest and collaborating with the police.
And although I can spend time explaining why this particular case is so wrong, I feel like it has already been explained (in a round about but still relevant way) here. Ultimately these companies are trying to capitalise on the work and struggle by oppressed people, without making any positive contribution themselves and trivialising and undermining the whole movement.
What it does highlight is the popularisation of these movements – being part of a protest is not seen as some super left thing to do that “normal” people should not take part in. Being ethical is seen as a requirement rather than an addition. It demonstrates a shift in society as a whole where we are expecting better and want to do better.
Ultimately it is the point of social movements to gain mass approval which will force organising structures like governments to make changes. So there is hope it seems. An awaking of consciousness.
What worries me is the perception of change with no tangible change. Last week I was having a discussion with a co-worker, a middle-class white woman. She pointed out to me and another colleague, a black male who grew up in a council estate that she thinks “racism has gotten better”.
We clarified that perhaps in some ways it has but in many ways it hasn’t – outlining how, yes, our grandparents were beaten up in the street but just last week a young boy was beaten up by 20 people because he was a refugee. Granted this is xenophobia but it was clearly deeply racialised. She pointed out how “it is cool to say #BlackLivesMatter” and we pointed out that more black people are being killed by the police now than they were in the era of Jim Crow lynching.
And so we went on back and forth and in the end she decided we had offended her and left.
So perhaps there is a raise of consciousness was. But is that a consciousness of wanting change or one of covering social guilt.
Talking about racism is still seen as a “card” and talking about structural oppression is still seen as “too political”. Diversity is favoured over liberation. They count black and brown bodies but not black and brown minds.
Still I am hopeful – diversity is on the agenda agenda. It’s an in. A platform to talk liberation. But the struggle is far from over and this populisation of the struggle only clouds our ultimate vision. Let us not get complacent as the struggle continues.