“The End of Girlboss”
On June 22, 2020, Leigh Stein published “The End of Girlboss is Here”, explaining how the era of fuzzy pink girl power feminism is over. In its place is an even bigger, blacker, and more profitable trend, anti-racism. As Stein points out, feminism itself is not an issue. It encouraged women to advocate for themselves in work spaces and hustle to be a C-Level executive. However, this new type of feminism became less about the idea itself and more about how companies can profit off of the idea. “The rise and fall of the girlboss is about how comfortable we’ve become mixing capitalism with social justice. We looked to corporations to implement social changes because we lost faith in our public institutions to do so.”
Karen and the Anti-Racist activist
As the popularity of the “Girl Boss” rose, so did the expectations that companies were going to follow through. “The problem with making girlboss feminism a part of your brand in order to appeal to customers was that those customers were going to expect you to put your values into practice.” Stein notes that, seemingly progressive, company, Nasty Gal had their own legal battles after they fired women who became pregnant. Not only was girlboss feminism turning out to be a sham, but they couldn’t practice what they preached. Girlboss feminism was noticeably white, excluding women of other races and economic backgrounds.
The nail in the GirlBoss coffin came in the form of the “Karen meme”. A “Karen” is a racist, classist, white woman who demands to speak to the manager, and more recently, who unjustly calls the police on Black people. Previously, it was OK to be an assertive white women who stuck up for herself and demanded respect. But with the resurgence of police brutality and videos on social media showing real life Karens displaying racist behavior, the assertive white woman has become the foil of the anti-racism activist.
As GirlBoss was kicking ass and taking names, Black Lives Matter took off in a different direction. In 2013, a jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty” for Travyon Martin’s death, igniting #BlackLivesMatter on social media. Despite recent upticks in popularity, not long ago it was almost un-American to say that Black lives mattered. The movement saw push back from conservatives and even the U.S. government. In, “The Government Is Watching #BlackLivesMatter, And It’s Not Okay,” Nusrat Choudhury explains that, “Records from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination show that since August 2014, DHS officials have been trolling public social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, to map and collect information on #BlackLivesMatter protests–and supposedly related events.” The government made it clear. They did not support an anti-racism movement. At the start, Black Lives Matter was a statement made mostly, by and for Black people. In 2020, that notion has changed.
“Why Now, White People?”
The “Code Switch” podcast asks the perfect question, “Why Now, White people?” Now, more than ever, white people are supporting anti-racism. But why? White people didn’t join the movement after Travyon Martin or Eric Garner, or even after the suspicious events surrounding Sandra Bland’s death. During the podcast, Gene Demby cites that books like “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “White Fragility” are currently on the top of the New York Times’ Bestseller list. He posed the question, why is it that now, white people are more open to talking about race. Some responses cited the pandemic. Tensions are already high. Many people have lost their jobs and family members. Others disagreed with the current presidential administration. One of the main reasons was that other white people were talking about race. It’s always easier to do something that’s already being done. Many white people felt they could now say that Black Lives Mattered because they saw their friends were doing it.
With anti-racism activism gaining momentum in whiter circles, businesses began to take note. Social media has kept a watchful eye on businesses’ responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. The murder of George Floyd sparked a number of protests and riots across the world. While the majority of protests remained peaceful, many cities including Atlanta, Dallas, and Minneapolis (home of George Floyd) saw police escalation and riots that caused the destruction of businesses and public property.
Businesses Respond to BLM
In Minneapolis, a Target was looted and set on fire. In Atlanta, luxury shopping center Phipps Plaza was also looted among other stores in the area. Despite the damage and loss, Target’s CEO Brian Cornell made a statement in support of the protests. “We are a community in pain. That pain is not unique to the Twin Cities—it extends across America. The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts.” He also vowed to rebuild the store and that the employees affected by the fire will receive their benefits and full pay. While the memo itself seems to assert that there is no love lost between the protestors and Target, many were quick to point out why that specific Target was a focal point during the riot. Target denies these claims.
Target is not the only company under fire for seemingly racist or anti-Black practices. In the days after initial protests broke out, Starbucks made a public commitment to support Black Lives Matter. Their Twitter statement expressed their commitment to “stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities.” Shortly after, Starbucks employees provided proof of screenshots of internal communications that explicitly prohibited wearing clothing or accessories with ”Black Lives Matter”. Other employees cited instances when they were told by their managers that they could not wear BLM face masks. With the threat of a boycott on the rise, Starbucks not only went back on their previous banning of BLM clothing but they produced their own version of a Black Lives Matters t-shirt for employees to wear if they choose.
In the weeks that have followed George Floyd’s death, we’ve seen multiple companies make a stand against racism. But just like Girl Boss feminism, one has to ask if they will follow through. Are companies speaking up about anti-racism for fear of losing money? Even certain cities have taken to creating murals and statues supporting BLM. Some cities have painted the streets with letters spelling out Black Lives Matter. Although these actions should be celebrated, others feel they are missing the point. “They paint the letters of your movement on a street and are hailed across the country, but they’re not willing to look you in the eye and talk about solutions,” said Jessica Byrd, co-founder of Three Point Strategies and an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.
“I mean, it takes an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance to believe that a mural is enough and that it could replace a conversation about structural change in the city.”
Perhaps in the past, Black people might have been pacified by these gestures. However, that time is long gone. The people want real, tangible change. It is not enough to simply remove the presence of Confederate monuments without addressing the attitudes that those monuments represent. So where does that leave us? Less than two months ago, officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. In that time we’ve seen Black people be more vocal than ever before about police brutality and racism. An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making Black Lives Matter the largest movement in U.S. history. Will businesses try to profit from anti-racism just as they did with girlboss feminism? Only time will tell.