Featured Illustration: ‘Screen Time’ by Zoë Cain
It’s Friday morning after Martin Luther King Jr. day and I begrudgingly walked into my local gym. Somewhere between my comfy bed and the treadmill, I begged to find some motivation. Just then, I walked straight to the check-in and was confronted with a sign stating, “the whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up today.” After I read that, a fire started burning inside of me.
Now, I’ve been working on being less judgmental. Not like a new year’s resolution or anything, but just in general. It’s my long-term professional and personal goal at this point. I am sure the intentions were good; an attempt to show appreciation to the current employees, or to spread awareness of the staff having to deal with uptight, pre-endorphin released gym members. But damn, as soon as I walked past the counter, my mind decided to do that introvert thing where you get triggered and whirlwind into your thoughts.
A lot has come to the public light since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, amongst other things, like, every American institution. And finally, people got upset! Then a few months later, George Floyd was heartbreakingly murdered by the Minneapolis police and nationwide outrage and protests ensued. More people began to talk about the history of policing, reform, abolition, and the systemic racism embedded in our criminal-legal system.
Everyone also seemed to be talking about how to identify their subconscious biases and posting black squares in solidarity on social media. And you know what else? Employers and organizations scrambled at the opportunity to shield themselves from public backlash and real accountability. Many corporations began to capitalize on our newfound interests of self-awareness, advocacy, and community solidarity. 2020 must have been the year of “diversity and inclusion.”
This particular behavior reminds me of Pride Month, where corporations known to support anti-LGBTQ+ legislation shower their companies in rainbows for one month out of the year to fool customers into believing their purchases go towards organizations that support LGBTQ+ existence and honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. But further analysis reveals corporations will do just about anything to profit from literally anyone. In that sense, it seems as though our queer money isn’t forbidden, just our identity.
Let’s look at diversity and inclusion programs. My gym, like several other organizations, states that Black Lives Matter. Some also state that they are committed to being inclusive organizations. Several go as far as to promote equity and publicly hold themselves accountable for their complicity in systemic racism. But are these organizational acknowledgments enough?
It’s well known that the US criminal legal system disproportionately affects Black and Indigenous people of color — from the impact of racist legislation to biased decision-making made by law enforcement resulting in higher, disproportionate rates of incarceration, which create barriers to employment and educational opportunities after reintegration into society and perpetuates systems of oppression. Despite this, employers continue to implement unfair hiring processes that discriminate against people of color and people of diverse experiences, and implement policies preventing employment based on convictions of crime that occurred years ago. Unfortunately, this includes many of those same companies proudly advertising their avant-garde advocacy with diversity and inclusion statements.
As we find ourselves wandering through year three of unexplored, COVID-19 pandemic territory, I caution us to be careful and intentional. Exploitive, performative advocacy is relentless!
I leave this article with a sentiment:
Despite what you see on Facebook, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical political visionary. As he had expressed in a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963, performative allyship dangerously stifles endeavors in progress towards liberation from oppressive systems and prevents the conversations and actions necessary to transform the current inequitable status quo. It excuses individuals from engaging in authentic self-reflection and from identifying their complicity and participation in harm. And let me make it clear, we all participate in harm to some capacity, myself included, but a true ally will make an effort to consciously reduce harm and combat the unethical. I ask that we, as the public, try to make intentional decisions about who we support, and that employers demonstrate their morals, and diversity and inclusion statements with actionable items. You know, talk the talk, and walk the walk.
People and community are the real-life assets! Pay attention to who companies employ and place in their leadership positions. True diversity includes people who are diverse in their life experiences, and we must acknowledge that unskilled labor is a misnomer. People are inherently valuable. Company inclusion should include Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Immigrant, Queer and Trans people, people with disabilities, individuals with mental health disorders, individuals with a history of substance use, individuals with criminal records, and individuals without high school diplomas and higher education. And if that statement made you feel uneasy, I invite you to take time to reflect on any biases.
The capitalist system suggests the world is short-staffed, but truly, the people are short-changed. The world and its workers are tired of being assigned non-congruent values based on perceptions of their societal status, productivity, and ability to produce profit, so be kind to those who are surviving and/or working to dismantle oppressive systems.
One thought on “The New Capitalist Advertising Strategy: Performative Diversity and Inclusion”
I greatly appreciated Dr Poulson’s insight into this problem, along with the reminder it has been for many years “the problem” in denying equity building opportunities for people of color. We have heard it said, “ we are all born with similar abilities but not nearly the same opportunities.” Being kept out of leadership positions, paid “unskilled” labor wages- union busting practices– blocked from banks and voting booths, all contribute to fewer opportunities to succeed, while the corporations rake in billions more each year.
Corporate heads in the past year have clutched theirs pearls in feigned outrage against racist election laws in Ga, and Republican politicians engaging in seditious activities, boldly stating they would no longer contribute funds or resources to either – and yet a few months later, with no public statements, the funding gates are again streaming support.
As Dr Poulson pointed out, we need to be aware and intentional with whom gets our support. Perhaps taking time to explore minority owned corporations, socially responsible investments, and true democratic reform efforts, and to partner with these concerns, could encourage “the arc of history” to bend more convincingly toward justice.