OPINION:Black History Month — The Retail Holiday

How are the same companies that profit from capitalistic racism profiting from pro-Black advertising?

By Hermela Goshu

On Feb. 1, 2021, inboxes, social media feeds, and television ads were flooded with sales and promotions for Black History Month. New clothing lines that “celebrated” Black culture were unveiled, sales for the first week of the month were pushed, and products created and companies owned by Black people were put on a pedestal and presented to consumers as a “woke” way to spend money this month. Despite the promotion of Black-owned businesses, many companies that unveiled their pro-Black products weren’t actually employing Black people.

Target, for example, unearthed a collection of “pro-black” clothing that they called “Black Beyond Measure”.  Some of the clothing was a partnership with a Black-owned company called Mess in a Bottle and some of the designs came from a contest for HBCU, but the vast majority were designed by Target’s in-house design team, which has a shocking lack of diversity. It’s also interesting Target has taken advantage of the prison industrial complex since the early 2000s and has relied on suppliers that use prison labor, but is now presenting itself as an ally to the Black community. So why is a clothing line that is supposedly “Black Beyond Measure” created mostly by white people, and how does that help the Black community or black designers in any way? The answer is that it doesn’t. In fact, it’s harmful to the Black community as a whole.

It is shocking that huge companies have been able to take advantage of the Black Lives Matter movements and a new wave of people that want to be socially conscious for profit when they are crucial to upholding the systems and structures of financial racism in America. The same companies profiting from the criminalization of Blackness are profiting from selling shirts that use colonized and out-of-context AAVE (Africa American Vernacular English) because it supposedly supports Black people to do so. 

Being cognizant of racism isn’t singing the praises of Black people and Black culture; it is actively working to dismantle the institutionalized, normalized, systemic racism that is faced by the Black community. It is understanding anti-black hiring practices that automatically reject people with black-sounding names. It is understanding that for the past four years, economists have been projecting that Black and Latinx families will have a median wealth of $0 by 2053. It is understanding that Black people make up almost 40% of the prison population in this country, not because they are criminals but because cheap prison labor is a new form of slavery. It is the understanding that supporting the Black community isn’t about a public show of support, it is about a daily effort to remove the racist threads that are embedded in the fabric of our society. Therefore, funding bloated corporations that profit off of inequity, such as Target, isn’t the way to show the Black community your solidarity.

If you are wondering what you can do to help, there are many things that you can do. Firstly, work on understanding Black History during Black History Month and throughout the rest of the year. When you understand the history of oppression against Black people in America, you will automatically be better equipped in the fight against racism. The second is by supporting Black-owned businesses year-round. The easiest way to invest in Black communities is by investing in Black people, so be on the lookout for ways to do that. The third way is by investing in equity work. Putting money into your local freedom fund, community organizations and national nonprofits that are rooted in anti-racist work can also make a huge difference.