Protest Cartoon

In an attempt to celebrate racial unity for India’s Independence Day, Cadbury recently came out with a new chocolate bar dubbed the Cadbury Unity Bar, with “dark, blended, milk and white chocolate all under one wrap.”

Naturally, the Internet had a field day mocking Cadbury for attempting to solve racism with chocolate, as well as for the questionable design of the bar, which segregates the flavors into rows with lighter colors at the top of the bar.

As more companies start latching onto social justice causes, from Johnnie Walker to Starbucks, it's worth asking whether or not the backlash toward this "woke capitalism" is warranted.

This might be a cliché neoliberal thing to say, but by itself, woke capitalism isn’t a problem — so long as the wokeness is somewhat genuine.

What many people missed from the Unity Bar announcement was the fact that, according to Today, the bar was advertised in three different languages, two of which aren't commonly used in advertising in India. That shows a step up from only selling a multi-flavored chocolate bar; there was some level of awareness to ensure the message could reach as many people as possible.

Sure, the Unity Bar might have been a cheesy symbol of racial consciousness, but it’s difficult to see this negatively impacting the serious discussion of racial relations. The Unity Bar isn’t going to cause a riot, and it’s more likely that someone will learn something positive from the discourse.

It’s even harder to argue that this event reflects badly on Cadbury, since by all measures, the product was a smash hit. The Unity Bar sold out in its limited release, and Cadbury got the free advertising from both its supporters and its critics online.

Other companies have entered social justice discussions with similarly well-minded goals. This includes everything from Bud Light's partnership with GLAAD to McDonald's corporate sponsorship of International Women's Day.

Corporate and activist symbiosis achieves the best for both parties: money and awareness. If the cause is controversial enough to have triggered conservatives to destroy their own shoes, that's just more publicity and possibly more sales.

Granted, controversy isn't always welcome or profitable. The appropriation of protest imagery by brands like Pepsi is definitely distasteful if it doesn't have anything to say about highly sensitive subject matter.

Some will point to the Gillette "The Best Men Can Be" ad from January and the later news of Gillette reporting a net loss of over $5 billion as evidence that woke capitalism doesn't work. Although, the evidence for a direct causation between the ad and these sales is questionable.

As explained by CNBC, a variety of factors (from new shaving startups to beard popularity to currency devaluation) are likely to have impacted Gillette. In fact, a recent Euromonitor report has shown the U.S. men's shaving market fall by more than 11% since 2014.

What I take more serious umbrage with is a supposedly woke company actively hurting the very people it claims to support.

Journalist Carlos Maza highlighted in a Twitter thread last June on how Steven Crowder, a conservative internet comedian, had been harassing him on YouTube for his identity. Crowder called him “a little queer,” “this sprite” and “mister lispy queer from Vox,” among other slurs and attacks.

In response, YouTube spent less than a week looking over Crowder’s videos and concluded that Crowder did not violate its terms of service for harassment. Defending bigots like Crowder is inexcusable, especially since, in a total lack of self-reflection about this fiasco, YouTube decorated its social media logos with rainbows to celebrate Pride Month.

How are LGBT+ users on YouTube supposed to feel about this?

Outside of YouTube, other pseudo-pride-friendly corporations like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have all donated millions to hundreds of furiously homophobic politicians like Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), according to a 2019 report by Popular Information.

None of these are isolated incidents, and as such, it's understandable why people would find this commercialized advocacy so rage-inducing.

Corporations have a long history of discriminating against women, minorities and LGBT+ people. Activists who fought tooth and nail against these corporations to ensure they could have equal rights in this country probably don't want those same corporations acting like they've been there the whole time.

Except that actually might not be the whole story. According to a 2019 poll of 801 LGBT+ people in the U.S. by Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News, 76% of respondents agreed that brands should be welcome to participate in LGBT+ Pride Month events. It's reasonable to assume there might be similar attitudes among other marginalized groups.

We as consumers should always be alert to any company that fails to live up to our values by loudly broadcasting whenever they donate to prejudicial politicians and whenever they repeatedly discriminate against their employees.

However, when a company actually makes the effort to draw attention to an important issue and does it with respect, that is worth recognizing.

Any apolitical person turned into an ally, no matter how they got there, is a victory. If their journey started out with them buying a product that partnered with Pride or IWD and wanting to learn more about these important issues, that isn't any less authentic than someone who started off protesting.

This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email editor@theloyolan.com.

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