Culture Hack

Culture Hack

Don’t Use, Appreciate: How to Support Black Artists the Right Way

The death of George Floyd and resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in pop culture lead to this need to support smaller Black creators and businesses, especially from the corporations guilty for not doing their part in defeating systemic racism. Muralists were commissioned to paint the letters “BLM” on main streets in cities, brands partnered with Black creators to create pieces that expressed the Black experience, and an influx in series and films that told Black stories by Black writers and directors came into society. And while this may have given a few creatives the exposure and career opportunities they deserve, is this the kind of support the community should be receiving? 

After receiving a shockingly insensitive email from M:United to paint a mural in the midst of communal grieving and protesting for Black lives, Ms. Martin and other Black artists wrote an email back to the corporation. Ms. Martin shared with The New York Times that the blunt request showed “a telling and dangerous opportunism.” Rushing to show tangible solidarity that people would photograph and post all over their feeds was just another version of systemic racism. Ms. Martin and the other artists stated that “the instrumentalization and exploitation of Black labor, ideas and talent for what is ultimately their own benefit and safety.” 

While corporations should be supporting Black businesses and creators any chance they get, there also needs to be a genuine interest in the crafts and processes of these innovators. We are far past the point in the timeline of this society where public support of protests against racism is enough. In news about a lack of diversity and the presence of prejudice in work settings and industries, it is clear that the reversal of the system won’t just be done on social media. Real change will take place when Black workers are treated in the same way as other employees or when Black art is respected in a way that it has not been throughout history. 

So how should larger companies support Black creators? The simple answer is being consistent in the requests. To throw out one project to a plethora of talented Black creators on a topic that affects all creators will only discredit your company in its efforts to support them. Similarly, if a company wants to show public support for the lives of Black Americans, they need to listen to the artists and storytellers building the projects. To punish Black creators for speaking out against strategies that don’t seem genuine is part of the problem. Accountability does not stop at recognizing past faults; it needs to be followed up with giving Black people a space to speak and listening to their opinions. 

People can see through attempts to just participate in this movement, this fight, for Black lives. They want to know that companies are making true efforts towards supporting Black innovators and for ultimately ending the systemic racism they have participated in for far too long. Support Black artists is not just about having them paint “BLM” on streets; it’s about giving them the opportunities prejudice has kept away from them for centuries.