OPINION: Open your purse  


The chorus of Rihanna’s “Take A Bow” currently plays on loop as I think about the actions of many corporations, politicians and educational institutions over the last month. 

Just like the Barbadian singer laments how a former love interest “put on quite a show”, I lament that prominent people and organizations are presenting the public, especially the Black public, with a performance of “solidarity” with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Online influencers have been called out for taking photo-ops at protests, others are aiming to create “bad boy” personas by attending these events, and a lot of other foolishness has been exposed. 

This type of performative allyship has swarmed social media as Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country and the globe. But my strong distaste comes for the major institutions with troubled pasts that suddenly claim to have our back, while taking little or no action to support their claims of solidarity. 

Let me paint a picture for you. 

You work at a major hair care company in a prominent Black city. One day, amid the current socio-political climate, your friend shows you a post from the company that shows the district manager with three police officers — expressing support for the police. Angry and frustrated, you message the district manager, who’s not Black, and his response is to ask you to help them write a second statement, this one in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

This recently happened to a friend of mine. While she didn’t help them with their statement, they still put one out. Did they really care about Black lives and are they truly against police brutality, or are they doing damage control after receiving backlash for their original post? 

Here’s where a lot of corporations fail. Companies who are notable for having anti-black tendencies suddenly decide to release a statement saying they support their Black employees, shoppers etc. 

Unfortunately for many of these companies, current and former employees are using their voices on social media to call them out for putting on a show. For example, current and former employees at Refinery29, a digital media and entertainment website focused on young women, are calling out the company on Twitter using #BlackatR29. 

The performativity of these institutions isn’t going to fool everyone this time. Minneapolis protesters showed they aren’t accepting anything less than the dismantling of the police force. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey showed up at a police brutality protest last weekend, but after he said he would not commit to defunding the police department, the crowd erupted into chants of “Go home, Jacob. Go home!” 

The Minneapolis City Council has since committed to defunding and dismantling the police department. 

People also called him out for his theatrics as he shed tears at George Floyd’s funeral. Now, I’m not saying he wasn’t truly sad about the situation, but his inaction tells how he truly feels about it. People can say nice words and make you feel special, but if there is no action to back it up, what’s the point? 

Bringing this to our own backyard, we can see the issue of performativity in the Wichita State community. I will say there are a lot of members of the university administration, faculty and student body that are actually putting in work. 

Many of the Black leaders in our university community are calling for action, for example. But there are some areas in which the WSU community fell flat. 

When WSU Tech originally announced that Ivanka Trump was going to be a speaker at its virtual commencement ceremony, it felt like someone slapped me in my face, with a bag of cement blocks. 

It was shocking to see the announcement after our student emails were filled with statements of support and Twitter went black on #blackouttuesday. WSU Tech and WSU ultimately removed Ivanka as a keynote speaker after community outcry and disappointment, but it was too late.  As Black students, it felt like we were automatically back at stage one. We got all these beautiful messages, but the day that the news came out, it just looked like another well put-together performance. 

This brings me to my final point with Wichita State Athletics. As a sports junkie, and someone who has covered sports for the newspaper, I receive most of the athletics notifications on Twitter. I have to know what’s happening. 

In recent weeks, the statements in support of Black athletes at WSU and the overall Black community felt lacking. Something about those statements just felt fishy to me, but I initially waved it off as paranoia. Then the Men’s basketball team dropped a video on Twitter, and the reason behind these statements finally made sense. 

Despite the obvious “let’s do this real quick” nature of the video and use of pencil on some signs (no seriously guys, a marker, highlighters, or even crayons would’ve been better), players seemed genuine in their messages. 

But my face started to turn when head coach Gregg Marshall started his message. It was okay, the use of personal pronouns while describing his players raised a brow, but overall I felt iffy. Then it clicked. 

He mentioned that WSU Athletics supports our African American players and he mentioned the fight against racism. But what he, Athletics, the university, the politicians, the big corporations never mentioned is how. 

When I realized every message came with a sentiment of support, but never an explanation on how, I said thanks, take your bow and you may exit on stage left. Because if your way of stopping the institutional problem of racism is saying “stop being racist”, I don’t want it. 

What I want is for you to actually contribute. Create more scholarships for your Black students. Donate to organizations that are fighting for equal rights for Black people. Call your politician and lobbyist friends and advocate for systemic changes. Contact your legislators. Call out white supremacy in your organizations and social circles. 

Realize we might need to defund the police and reallocate those funds to improve our health care, our housing, unemployment and make life better for our disadvantaged citizens, a vast portion of whom are Black. 

If an organization claims to be in solidarity with Black people, it should be ready to back up that claim with action. 

Basically, I’m saying to open your purse.