Dear Brands, Your Stance on Jacob Blake Says a Lot About Where You’ve Always Stood on Racism

This is bigger than any brand.

As we’ve already seen, it’s larger than basketball, tennis, sneakers and any other kind of inanimate object, form of entertainment or sport.

In this very moment, Black people and their allies — who are traumatized and outraged over yet another bold act of violence carried out against a Black person at the hands of authorities who vowed to protect and serve — could give a damn about your sneaker drop.

However, if you tossed a Black Lives Matter tweet into the fray in June when the murder of George Floyd galvanized the nation and the world, I can assure you Black people in America are watching you.

They’re watching how you show up right now.

If we’re being honest, after hundreds of organizations, celebrities and other public figures lent their voices and platforms to the support of racial justice in America in the wake of Floyd’s killing, many Black people were hopeful yet simultaneously washed over by skepticism.

We both applauded and side-eyed your acts of solidarity, financial pledges and promises to recruit and retain more Black talent.

Here’s why: In the weeks since you said “For once, don’t do it,” or struck a line through the word “racism” on your social media pages, Black people continued to be hunted down and killed, paralyzed and pummeled by police officers across the streets of America.

This week, we collectively watched Jacob Blake take seven shots to the back as his children watched and his loved ones shouted in horror. And Black people had their worst fears reinforced: This is far from over.

Marches, protests and even riots won’t be enough to fix racism and violence in America.

It’s going to be a long haul.

As Portia Blunt, director of apparel operations at New Balance, said during FN’s “Race Revolution” webinar about the array of marketing messages and pledges circulating from brands in the footwear space, what’s going to matter most is how brands respond and act a year from now when George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter aren’t trending hashtags.

We didn’t have to wait a year to find out.

As the NBA players decision to boycott their playoff games reverberates, and as more athletes — like LeBron James and Naomi Osaka — and brands (including Nike and Adidas) step up to protest the attack on Jacob Blake by police officers, it’s not lost on Black people that the build-up to outrage felt slower.

In particular, our eyes are fixated on those “allies” who spoke out in June and July, when coronavirus-induced restrictions were harsher and we all seemed to have more time on our hands.

Black people want to see what you do now.

As a brand, or human ally, if your response to racism and police brutality is isolated to one police shooting in May — that’s wholly insufficient.

As D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy said during the FN Virtual Summit this month, brand strategy around diversity, inclusion and equality should go much deeper than the policy itself.

“[Inclusion and equality] isn’t something you arrive at — it’s a lifelong commitment,” he explained. “I’m always going to be Black — I’m going to die Black.”

Me too.

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