The following is the introduction to “Justice & Brand Accountability”.
On May 25, 2020, U.S. citizen George Floyd was carelessly killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Murdered by a police officer in broad daylight with a sworn duty to ‘protect and serve’, him. The horror of the act, captured on a cellphone and witnessed by us all during a non-stop COVID-19 news cycle, laid bare what has been a fact of life for Black people and people of color (POC) in the U.S., and around the world: freedom does not mean equality.
To start, let’s full-throatedly stipulate some basic and fundamental facts about the world we live in. First, systemic racism is real; born of a set of codified biases and bigotry that pervades and impacts every aspect of our societies and lives: employment, housing, education, policing, and beyond. Racial inequality is real.
Second, in moments like this, we hope that actors of good conscience within a civil society will advocate for equality. But calls for ‘equality’ are about making things ‘even.’ Even distribution of right and opportunities. Equality assumes that everyone is starting off from the same position. That the playing field in level in each actor’s favor, and that all they need to do is apply themselves to the task or job before them and that their level of success in that endeavor will be a function of their individual merit.
Third, for Minneapolis, a city still shook by the deaths of Philando Castile and Michael Brown years prior to George Floyd, citizens understand that equality is not a declaration. Instead, equality can only come from dismantling the system. The systemic nature of racism means not just that Black people and POC aren’t being given their fair due in terms of opportunity, resource, and treatment; it means that they are starting from a disadvantage.
As a result of those three truths, this paper will focus on Justice and Accountability.
Arguably, justice is only achieved when the most vulnerable party is protected, made whole, and/or becomes better off. As a result, reform and rights generally focus on those three outcomes. Justice demands that we radically transform the system. ‘We’ being the operative word. All of us. Everyday citizens, leaders, and beyond. And that includes brands. Racial inequity is both a collective problem to redress, and a shared responsibility to solve. The greater the resources, influence, and platform of any individual actor – the greater their accountability. Brands have played a meaningful role in pursuing justice in the past; in the #MeToo movement, in LGBTQ rights, and in gender equality. Once again, history is calling on brands to use their power, influence, and scale for social justice related to racial inequity.
Because we find ourselves at an inflection point in history, for many there is no going back. We are no longer in a moment where we are willing to tolerate either pernicious injustice, or a blind indifference to it.
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