Over the past month, many companies have spoken out about their commitment to fighting racial injustice and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. No statement has been as powerful as that of Ben & Jerry’s.
The ice cream juggernaut has outshined other companies by proving that their support of Black Lives Matter goes beyond a vaguely worded statement and a hashtag. Long before 2020, Ben & Jerry’s has been vocal and intentional about their dedication to a wide range of social justice issues. Their actions, both past and present, are a model for how companies should engage in activism if they truly want to be allies to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ben & Jerry’s’ statement following the death of George Floyd contains bold and specific language that stands out from the language of other companies. Head to the home page of the Ben & Jerry’s website and you will immediately see a link to the statement titled, “Silence Is NOT An Option.” The picture attached to this link is a graphic proclaiming “Dismantle White Supremacy.”
While plenty of companies have used more general wording to condemn racism and call for healing and unity, Ben & Jerry’s directly calls out white supremacy as the force that needs to be destroyed. The rest of their statement uses similarly fearless language.
For example, they write, “The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy. What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning.”
By calling out “inhumane police brutality,” Ben & Jerry’s proves that they are not afraid of addressing the specific issue at hand, rather than just generally referring to recent murders of innocent Black Americans as the result of “racism.”
Additionally, their use of the phrase “bad apple” is a direct reference to those who argue that, while some police officers are racist, the police system as a whole does not perpetuate racism. These “Blue Lives Matter” supporters believe that the “good police” are being unfairly criticized due to the actions of a few “bad apples.” Thus, the company’s wording candidly addresses an argument that many people use to avoid confronting the realities of institutionalized racism in the American police system.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Ben & Jerry’s statement is its discussion of slavery. The company declares, “What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is the fruit borne of toxic seeds planted on the shores of our country in Jamestown in 1619, when the first enslaved men and women arrived on this continent. Floyd is the latest in a long list of names that stretches back to that time and that shore.”
The company thus explicitly acknowledges that racist killings in the U.S. today can be traced back 400 years to the beginning of American slavery. Therefore, the statement demonstrates how Ben & Jerry’s is aware of and concerned with not only police brutality, but also the many other ways that institutionalized racism has reared its ugly head since 1619.
Most other companies have steered clear of discussing topics like white supremacy and slavery in their statements, despite the relevance of these topics to racial injustice in the U.S. today. Examining Starbucks’ statement helps to understand how the Ben & Jerry’s statement stands out.
When you visit the Starbucks home page, you have to scroll down to the very bottom to find a link to information on their commitment to fighting racial injustice. This information is the last link on the page, located underneath ads for their products. Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry’s displays the link to their statement clearly on the top of their home page. The ice cream company’s page is also filled with articles discussing social justice issues, all of which are displayed above any mention of their products.
Starbucks’ wording of the link also differs from that of Ben & Jerry’s.
The link to Starbucks’ statement says, “We will not be bystanders. We will continue to support racial equity and justice and share how we are taking action.” While there is nothing “wrong” with this wording and it is well-intentioned, it is clearly not as brave and bold as a call for dismantling white supremacy. Additionally, the Starbucks wording is much more self-centered, focusing on informing people how the company is responding to racial injustice. Ben & Jerry’s’ wording is a call to action for anyone reading and does not place focus on the company itself.
Once you click on the Starbucks home page link, you are brought to a page on the Starbucks Stories & News website titled “Racial equity – learn with us.” While this page talks a lot about what Starbucks does to support racial equity and justice, you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find anything specifically addressing Black Lives Matter.
The language of the Starbucks Black Lives Matter statement continues to differ from that of Ben & Jerry’s. It states that “Starbucks is committed to doing our part in ending systemic racism” and outlines the ways Starbucks supports racial equity and inclusivity. However, nowhere does it mention white supremacy or police brutality. Nor George Floyd. Nor slavery.
It is important to note that Starbucks released this statement not after Floyd’s death in late May, but after a controversy surrounding their refusal to let baristas wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts in the middle of June. The company eventually reversed their stance due to criticism and is now designing a T-shirt with the words “Black Lives Matter” on it.
However, the fact that it took three weeks and a controversy for them to release a comprehensive statement further proves that their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement does not appear as genuine as that of Ben & Jerry’s.
Of course, companies will vary in how they go about responding to any sort of current event. However, the recent murders of innocent Black Americans by police and the subsequent visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement have made the past month a significant moment — and hopefully a turning point — in America’s history of racial injustice. It is a moment that requires brazen language like that of Ben & Jerry’s.
Words like “inclusivity” and “racial equity” are fine. Ultimately, however, they don’t have the same impact as declaring “Dismantle White Supremacy,” condemning police brutality and underscoring how institutionalized racism has been embedded in the U.S. since the arrival of the nation’s first African slaves. The more vague the language, the easier it is to ignore the realities of the way the U.S. treats and always has treated Black people in violently unjust ways. Ben & Jerry’s clearly knows the power of diction, which is why their statement puts many others to shame.
Other companies are most likely afraid to be as bold in their language because of the potential financial losses. The more direct the language about topics regarding racial injustice, the more a company risks alienating people and therefore losing money. Many white Americans fear confronting topics like white supremacy because it means acknowledging their complicity in institutionalized racism.
Therefore, by keeping the language focused on topics like “inclusivity” and “racial equity,” companies can check off their Black Lives Matter activism box while also having a better chance of appeasing those who do not support the movement.
The content of the Ben & Jerry’s statement is equally as strong as its language. The company specifically calls for four concrete actions to occur in order to go about dismantling white supremacy.
First, they directly address President Trump. They call for him to stop supporting aggressive force on protestors and to disavow white supremacists and nationalist groups who support him. Next, they call for Congress to pass H.R. 40 legislation, a bill that would establish a commission to “examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”
Then, they state that they support George Floyd’s family’s call to create a national task force whose goal would be to end racial violence and hold police accountable for their actions. Last, they call on the Department of Justice to support its Civil Rights Division in defending the rights of Black and Brown people and to reinstate policies that have been rolled back under the Trump Administration.
Plenty of businesses like Starbucks have explained specific actions they will take within their company to support the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it is hard to find another company that has been as clear and precise in what the country as a whole needs to do to truly fight racial injustice.
The Ben & Jerry’s statement addresses the government and promotes specific laws that will help stop racially motivated violence in the U.S. This shows that the company is committed to action beyond what they can control inside of their own company. Few other corporations can say this for themselves.
In addition to their statement, Ben & Jerry’s has taken concrete action that proves they are engaged in anti-racist activism. For example, they are participating in the Stop Hate For Profit Facebook ad boycott. This boycott is happening to protest the racist and hateful content that Facebook allows users to post.
Additionally, Ben & Jerry’s posts articles on their website about racial injustice, such as “Police Are Using Social Distancing Rules to Harass Black People.” They have also put out a graphic that uses scoops of ice cream to explain what it means to defund the police and invest those funds in communities. These actions prove that Ben & Jerry’s puts time and energy into activism beyond simply making a statement because it would look bad for the company not to make one.
It is no surprise that Ben & Jerry’s has outdone other companies in their calls to fight for racial justice. The company has been thoroughly engaged in activism for many years.
For example, they support the hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals to make their ingredients. They have spoken out about everything from climate justice to LGBTQ+ equality, providing specific ways that people can help fight for these issues on their website. They even have an activism manager whose job is to shape their social justice campaigns. They also put out a statement officially supporting Black Lives Matter in 2016, so this is not even the first time that Ben & Jerry’s has vocalized their support for the movement, as it is for other companies.
Their activism even bleeds into their products. Since 1987, the company has created ice cream flavors based on social justice issues and progressive politics. One of these flavors is Justice Remix’d, which is dedicated to criminal justice reform. Some of the proceeds from the sale of Justice Remix’d go to the Advancement Project National Office Free and Safe campaign, which advocates for ending the system of mass incarceration that ravages communities of color.
Ben & Jerry’s’ unabashed activism has proven that they are not afraid of losing customers who do not agree with the causes they champion. People make it abundantly clear in the comments section of articles on their website that they will not buy from Ben & Jerry’s because of their stances on social justice issues. For example, someone wrote, “Thanks for confirming why I have not spent a dime with this company in years” on the article discussing police harassing Black people using social distancing rules.
Someone who heads to the Starbucks website might not even come across anything about fighting racial injustice. Meanwhile, it is impossible not to notice Ben & Jerry’s’ support of Black Lives Matter. Many companies are trying to do the right thing by speaking out and making donations. However, it is hard not to see the actions of other companies as shallow brand activism in comparison to what Ben & Jerry’s has said and done.
Simply put, Ben & Jerry’s goes above and beyond in their commitment to fighting racial injustice. Their language and actions in this moment and throughout the years confirm that the company puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to their activism. If companies truly want to support Black Lives Matter, they should try being as bold and intentional with their words and actions as Ben & Jerry’s.