Last week, the NFL announced that before every week 1 game, the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be played. A couple of weeks ago, the makers of Uncle Ben’s Rice and Aunt Jemima’s breakfast goods announced a rebranding of their products because of the painful history behind the brands. When the first protests started across the country, Democratic members of Congress took a picture kneeling in Kente cloth printed scarves to signify solidarity with Black people.
These three examples represent a disturbing trend that has been happening as the world is grappling with discussions about police brutality and systemic racism. A trend of pandering to Black people, without doing any real work to change the status quo. These “acts” of solidarity make it appear as society is doing something to dismantle racist institutions, but they are just trying to pacify us into silence.
The NFL deciding to play the Black National Anthem before the first few games of the season means nothing because they have essentially banned Colin Kapernick from playing in the league after he peacefully protested police brutality of Black people. The NFL has yet to apologize to him, or even admit their guilt.
Society takes our culture without respecting us as people and believes that displaying this culture equates to valuing our lives. It does not. No one is marching and putting their life at risk to hear the Black National Anthem or to watch white people kneel wearing an African print scarf. We are fighting for our right to live. It’s an insult to Black people to think that these empty gestures will quiet us enough to stop fighting for our right to live. The insult is even greater when it comes from institutions that know better and still choose not to do better. It’s been no secret that Aunt Jemima was based on a minstrel act. The NFL has made billions off Black people but still choose not to understand them or support them on a deeper level.
We could look at these examples as the beginning of a deeper conversation, but if the true work of changing systemic racism is not done, then these examples are empty. And were done not in support but in show. Black people are valuable not for what we’ve contributed to society, but for who we are as human beings. We are asking for businesses and institutions to support us, by making real change not making a mockery of us.