Rainbow Washing


Your Rainbow Logo Doesn’t Make You an Ally

A strong statement but one that holds a lot of truth. In this article written by Lily Zheng, Zheng acknowledges that businesses are so willing to fly the flag of diversity. However, there is more to it than simply packing up the flag when pride week is over.

If I were to predict a word of the year for 2021, it’d be “performative.” The word is used by everyone from diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioners to conscious consumers describing socially minded efforts undertaken by corporations that feel hypocritical, insincere, or otherwise miss the mark.

As we continue through June, Pride month in the U.S., many of our social media feeds are filling up with rainbow logos (particularly, the “Philly Pride” variant, with black and brown stripes) and “Love Is Love” messaging. But this messaging, which might have felt revolutionary several years ago, seems to be losing people — even members of the LGBTQ+ community, the very people with whom these branding efforts are intending to show solidarity with.

Many members of the LGBTQ+ community are tired of “rainbow capitalism,” a term coined to describe how LGBTQ+ symbolism is being wielded by companies to heighten consumerism without leading to meaningful improvement for LGBTQ+ communities. Others take issue with “pinkwashing” — the use of LGBTQ+ symbolism to obfuscate or distract from human rights abuses and other injustices.

The heart of the debate is far more complex than “Does a rainbow logo do more good than harm?” The fundamental question that we should be considering, as companies and as consumers, is, “How should brands show what they stand for in an authentic, meaningful, and accountable way?”

This was precisely the question I was asked at a panel on branding and Pride several years ago. I was the only panelist not affiliated with a corporation on the panel, and my talking points were similar to what they are today:

“Folks like Marsha P. Davis and Sylvia Rivera, queer, trans people of color (QTPOC), who put Pride on the radar in the ’60s and ’70s, would be priced out of the corporate merchandise you’re selling today. QTPOC workers still aren’t earning a living wage in your companies and still face disproportionate and overwhelming rates of discrimination in your workplaces. Ultimately, companies that are far from inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ people have no right to market themselves and their products to our community. The rainbow logos are fragile façades of inclusivity hiding persistent inequality — and the truth will become clear sooner or later.”

I expected to hear panelists defending their brand’s Pride logos. But one executive surprised me. “That’s why we don’t turn our logo rainbow for June,” she shared. “We do everything we can to make sure our company has a reputation of inclusivity and acceptance, and that consumers associate that with our normal logo, year-round.”

This is a powerful proposition, especially in this moment. Consumers who became well-versed in holding corporations accountable during the crucible of 2020 are doing the same now with their participation in Pride month, especially LGBTQ+ consumers, who commonly quip, “We are queer 365 days of the year.” Today, consumers want to see companies really walk the talk.

Please see the full article here

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