Solidarity for sale: Big business makes oppression a profit


It’s all for the cause, right? That’s what we consumers are led to believe as we buy the tenth item with a BLM fist plastered on the front. But the hard truth is, many of these types of merchandise are sold to boost the image of big businesses and diminish the meaning of the symbols being used. 

In the past few years especially, many businesses have begun to sell merchandise honoring specific minority groups during their appreciation months. Stores are flooded with rainbows in the month of June, in February, shelves are magically decorated in yellow, green and red to symbolize Black History Month. But where is this kind of support every other month of the year? It seems that once these appreciation months are over, so are the commemorating store promotions. Merchandise suddenly disappears from the shelves and is replaced with basic goods. Though the demand for this type of merchandise may rise during certain months of the year, that doesn’t mean it should completely disappear the next day.  Not to mention the constant use of symbols like the Black Lives Matter fist or the pride flag diminishes the meaning, leaving it to the basic consumer for interpretation.

With social media becoming more popular throughout the years, companies have been able to take marketing to a whole new level. Hundreds of stores have their own profiles on apps like Instagram and Tiktok and have used them to post promotions and sell extra merchandise. During these appreciation months, many companies fill their pages with posts supporting minorities. Some even go far enough to change their profile pictures to match the theme of these months. These social media platforms become a 30-day utopia for minorities, preaching justice and equality for all. But sadly, all of this comes to an end as the next month comes around. While posts remain, profile pictures are immediately switched back to standard business logos. It’s like the month never even happened.

Black History Month display in a local store. Photo by ElizaTurco

An explanation as to why businesses choose to support minorities for a few months out of the year is simple: they are putting on a performance for a profit. Companies display solidarity to consumers in order to increase sales and support. Think about it, have you ever done extensive research on whether a company supports a certain cause before buying? The truth is, a very small amount of people actually do. Most consumers are just looking for the best possible bargain, and consequently end up supporting companies that profit from someone else’s history and oppression.  Many companies hide behind a mask of unity and appreciation when in reality they only really want to make a quick profit.

With further investigation, consumers may find that many of their favorite stores completely contradict themselves. Many corporations use their profits made from these monthly sales and make donations to individuals and companies with the opposite agendas. It is important that consumers actually take a moment to look at the background of what they are buying before making their final purchase.  

Especially with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, many businesses have tried to rebrand themselves with the fear of being called out or canceled. While in retrospect this rebranding may be a good thing, it’s shocking that it has taken this long for them to answer a call to action. And with the effects of the pandemic, many companies have become sloppy with the merchandise they are stocking in their stores. This was especially noticeable during Pride Month in 2021. As soon as June came around, stores were filled with rainbows and pride flags, but some merchandise looked a little rushed. Many complained that stores were lacking in creativity, and that the merchandise being sold looked cheap and unfashionable. This has been the case for many minority appreciation months as companies rush to get products sold without actually taking the time to create good quality merchandise. 

While it’s concerning that business- es have taken this particular route in seasonal sales, some may argue that this is purely a marketing strategy. Companies flood their stores with themed merchandise in the months it’s most popular. This gives them points for representation while simultaneously raking in the extra cash. Companies sell what’s relevant for the time. While they may feel very strongly about an issue, it’s important that they keep their composure and maintain their image.

In a perfect world, companies would focus on year-round support, as well as give some of their profits back to minorities. If companies want to sell merchandise focused on minority groups and their history, they must do so genuinely. No one wants to buy from a store that hides behind a mask of solidarity. Companies should support before they sell.

For consumers who wish to con- tribute to companies that are genuinely supportive of different causes, there are many easy signs to look for. A supportive company will focus its resources towards supporting creators in specific minority groups, as well as strive to let people’s voices be heard. Companies like these will not just have a month-long display, but will continue to support these communities throughout the year. These companies will donate a part of their profit to specific causes and advocate for minorities. Consumers should also pay attention to the company’s owners as well as their benefactors as some may have views that contradict what their business claims to stand for. Consumers must also remember that not every business has ill intentions when selling merchandise to commemorate these months. There are some companies that genuinely want to spread awareness and support, but unfortunately they can get confused with others. It’s not bad to buy merchandise during appreciation months, but it’s important to know exactly who you’re contributing to before putting the money down.

“At my store, I’ve noticed that we display more things year-round, but there’s still room for improvement”

Bailey kollasch, senior network staffer

“When I see brands profiting off of oppression, it makes the cause seem less important.”

Elleiana Green, Senior network staffer

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