Black History Month should benefit Black employees, not big business

Make your company a reflection of your campaign

Black History Month is a time to celebrate achievements within the Black community and be reminded of the work still needed to achieve equality in our society. It’s not a time for corporations to cash in.

Near the end of January, I woke up to a notification on my Apple watch. It told me I could earn a limited-edition Unity Challenge award for Black History Month if I closed my Move ring for seven consecutive days. 

I had to read this message a few times to fully grasp what I was seeing. A movement award to celebrate Black History Month. Wait, what?

It’s not that I don’t think large corporations should shine a light on the injustice and inequality still plaguing our planet. I do. I’m just not sure a movement award is doing much to support Black communities. Suddenly, I found myself questioning the intention behind this message. 

A few good Apples

While the movement award threw me for a loop, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the other Black history initiatives made by Apple. One of which includes an audio experience with Ayo Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. 

In Canada, Apple is using this month to spotlight local Black artists from the Browse page. Apple Books is also promoting Black authors, including a free collection from Black Pen offered on Feb. 15. Black Pen is a program through the Nia Centre for the Arts in Toronto. It supports and showcases creative writing by new Black writers. 

Another worthwhile swipe on your iPhone is Apple Maps. Throughout February, Apple offers curated guides to Black-owned businesses in various cities, as well as tours of Black history sites. 

There are plenty of ways to support local Black businesses, Black entertainers and Black authors with Apple. This is great. But is it authentic?

A few bad seeds

Whether Apple’s efforts are pure is difficult to determine, but I find actions usually speak louder than words. 

During Apple’s last inclusion and diversity report, in 2020, the company admitted that of its 160,000 employees, only nine per cent of total employees were Black. The company’s leadership team tells a similar story.

What good is a Black history award if the company supplying it has a leadership team made up of 59 per cent white employees and four per cent Black employees? 

Meanwhile at Amazon

Sadly, it’s not only Apple offering empty words during Black History Month. Amazon is the second most successful business in North America by revenue standards. It ranks one spot behind Walmart, with $386 billion in sales each year

With so much money, surely Amazon is finding major ways to support the breakdown of systematic racism and inequality in the workplace, right? Not so much. 

Amazon’s Black history month campaign shows similar efforts to Apple. It’s highlighting Black authors, promoting products from Black-owned businesses and promoting Black-owned brands in the Amazon fashion storefront. Sadly, this doesn’t offer an honest picture of Amazon’s efforts in equality. 

Last year, the Seattle Times published a report about Amazon’s employee ratios. What they learned is that most of the high paying jobs in the company are held by white or Asian men, while 60 per cent of Amazon’s lowest paid workers are Black and Hispanic. More than half of these employees are women. 

These numbers are especially hard to swallow during a global pandemic, during which Amazon saw its fortune rise by $86 billion

It’s great to see Black authors and businesses highlighted on the main pages of these multi-billion-dollar companies. I just wish the company workforces reflected the same supportive mindset.

Black history month isn’t a marketing campaign

I want to believe the world is becoming more aware of the need for equality, safety and compassion for all. That large corporations are beginning to take a stand against racism and put their money where their mouths are to make a statement. Unfortunately, I’m starting to wonder if a lot of the Black History Month “support” we see by large companies isn’t just another form of marketing. 

I hope I’m wrong. And while I’ll be taking advantage of the tips on new Black Canadian authors and musicians, I can safely say I won’t be working toward any Black history-themed movement awards.

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