I remember the first time I saw the video of George Floyd’s death; pain and anger shot through my whole body. Not because I was surprised or shocked, as lynchings of Black Women and Men have been happening long before I was born, but because of the helplessness I felt.
That someone put in a position to protect and safeguard chose to do the opposite and took someone’s life so blatantly, so publicly. It’s the same helplessness that the bystanders recording Floyds murder must have felt and the same helplessness that George must have felt as he called out in his last moments. The type of helplessness that calls for action.
As I write this, cosied up next to a fireplace during a winter night in Cape Town, South Africa on the anniversary of Floyd's murder; I remember that the outcry of anguish and the protests that erupted this time a year ago were ones that were felt not just nationwide, but worldwide. South Africa is no stranger to the race struggle that took George Floyd’s life. The country’s history is inseparable from the Apartheid, but it was partly the international support that Black South Africans received that helped bring about apartheid's end.
Like then, change is only coming now because we're rallying as an international community and speaking out together against the injustices around us. At a time when a global pandemic is killing millions without discrimination, we have recognised that we can only get through it if we work together. Just as the virus needed an international response (for every person to do their part), the has applied to the disease of racism.
And change has come slowly over the past year; the guilty verdict the police officer received in George Floyd’s trial, and the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act being passed in congress are both steps in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
One of the lessons that came out of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it is not enough to be not racist, we must all use our voice to be anti-racist. Silence can be seen as compliance, so it is important that we all fulfil our moral obligation to those around us who are victims of the struggle. That doesn’t just mean a performative post on social media, but by asking ourselves how we can help. Having conversations with friends and family, donating, being socially-responsible consumers, or writing to elected officials about adopting policies that will result in change are all ways we can support the movement with our actions.
As a Black, Muslim woman and someone with a platform, I recognise my responsibility. I want to speak out and inspire change whenever I can. I know that it is vital to continue the dialogue; to meet with whichever leaders will listen, to support Black-owned businesses, to volunteer, to continue to donate to one of the many amazing organisations that support change and to help rally the international community to which I belong.
Not only do I want to be part of the change in seeing business owners that look like myself and my husband, but as we enter an age of corporate social justice, as consumers we must not underestimate our spending power and the influence it can have on pushing businesses to enact change. I believe businesses can help leverage their influence in this fight. A company that stands for something should be more successful than a company that doesn’t.
For brands, this means diversifying internal structures within the company and offering funding and substantive resources while also speaking out. Through the conversations I’ve had with friends, it’s clear there has been a shift in how consumers view brands that they do not feel support social justice. We are now holding brands accountable, just like we hold ourselves accountable. There is no longer room for brands to stay neutral, we now recognise the power these organisations have in the fight for change.
During the dismantling of Apartheid, the economic sanctions and condemnations from other international leaders was key in the liberation of South Africans. In that same way, the ever-increasing influence that brands’ voices have in today’s world is paramount to pulling those levers of change. The idea that neutrality protects a brand’s bottom line is a misconception. The Ben & Jerry's business model - they openly and actively supported Black Lives Matter and pushed for police reform in the United States, which was heralded by consumers - proves that is not the case.
The past year has taught us we can no longer look away. The pain of those less privileged is documented and broadcasted everywhere for us all to see. There is no space for ignorance or inaction, we are compelled to respond. Unlocking our empathy towards others and combining it with action will be the vehicle for change.
Sabrina Dhowre Elba's fee for this article will be donated to BLAM UK, find out more here.
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