The death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last week has caused an immediate response of grief and anger, as well as the examination by individuals and organisations across the world about how we respond to such deaths and the racism that they expose in Western society. Across the creative industries urgent questions have been asked about the slow response to calls for diversity and change, and what needs to happen now.
The instinctive initial response by many to Floyd’s death is to take to the streets and protest. Events are happening around the world, across America but also in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.
Photographers and filmmakers have been out capturing powerful scenes from the protests across the world:
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Protests over the police killing of George Floyd continue in Minneapolis. On the first few nights, law enforcement was sparse. Now, they’re out in force, arresting hundreds of protestors amidst tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. They’re slashing tires of cars within their perimeter. Journalists are also being targeted. Photographed for @vanityfair
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#WeBldPwr X #BlackLivesMatter protest and demand justice for the murder of #GeorgeFloyd and others in officer involved killings in Los Angeles. . . . . . #byalexishunley #adoberesidency #adobecommunityfund #lightroom #photoshop #canon #quarantinediary #theperfectstorm #femalephotographer #blackfemalephotographer #blackphotographer #laphotographer #losangeles #breonnataylor #georgefloyd #TonyMcDade #blm #icantbreathe #lapd #lasd
PROTESTING FROM HOME
Yet during the pandemic, it can be difficult for people to protest physically. Mona Chalabi has been once again demonstrating the power that data can have to get to the heart of the matter in visuals online:
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No justice. No peace. One of the men 4 men who killed George Floyd has been charged with third-degree murder. It doesn’t feel like a victory. A man is still dead and police officers know that most of the time, there will be no repercussions for the violence they inflict. When you see this whole image, when you don’t slice it up into 10 small pieces, all that’s visible is one long bar. Killing after killing that goes unpunished. That’s why people are still protesting *after* the news that Derek Chauvin has been charged. It’s not nearly enough. Let’s go back to the start and look at the 25 times that police officers supposedly had to face consequences for their actions. History tells us that even if all four men who killed George are convicted, their sentences will be generous (unlike the way the criminal justice punishes black men). Here is a breakdown of the sentences that were given those 25 times: ➖ Unknown sentence = 4 ➖ Just probation = 3 ➖ 3 months in jail = 1 ➖ 1 year in jail, 3 years suspended = 1 ➖ 1 year in prison = 1 ➖ 18 months in prison = 1 ➖ 2.5 years in prison = 1 ➖ 4 years in prison = 1 ➖ 5 years in prison = 1 ➖ 6 years in prison = 1 ➖ 16 years in prison = 1 ➖ 20 years in prison = 1 ➖ 30 years in prison = 2 ➖ 40 years in prison = 1 ➖ 50 years in prison = 1 ➖ life in prison = 3 ➖ life in prison without parole, plus 16 years = 1 Source: Mapping Police Violence (run by @samswey, @iamderay & @MsPackyetti)
There are numerous petitions that can be signed, including the Justice for George Floyd petition. D&AD has put together a very useful resource list which includes other petitions as well as fundraising endeavours and wider reading. This can be found here.
And gal-dem has published a thoughtful piece on other ways to protest if you can’t go out physically due to coronavirus. “Protest has the function of agitating the state, though I believe it’s more moving function is one of collective catharsis,” writes Melz. “It allows us to come together as a collective and share in the grief and pain that we are all feeling. It gives us a place to channel and externalise the rage and hurt that runs through our veins each day in this white supremacist world. Still, the conflict remains – how many more lives may we put at risk by taking to the streets during a pandemic?” The piece then lists the many ways that people can channel grief and anger when physical protesting is not an option.
RESPONSES FROM BRANDS
As this New York Times piece points out, brands have begun responding to the cause, if somewhat warily. “There’s a general trend toward executives in the C-suite being called out and pressure-tested by consumers who want to know where they stand — there’s an opportunity to differentiate not just on function, on what’s a better mousetrap, but on values,” says Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the piece. “It’s smart — they’re taking a stand, hopefully, because it’s moral, but also because they understand the long-term economic game.”
And for brands that “borrow heavily from black culture”, the topic cannot be ignored, states influencer Jackie Aina in the piece. “When it comes to relevant things happening, things you can’t ignore like the Black Life Matters movement, police brutality or murders in our community, it’s crickets, and that’s unacceptable,” she said. “If you are capitalising off of a culture, you’re morally obligated to help them.”
THE NEED FOR WIDER CHANGE
This moment is seeing a call for wider change across society, but also specifically in the creative industries with artists such as Campbell Addy, and Emmazed founder, Mo Mfinanga, calling for systemic change in how black creatives are treated in the industry.
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These are but a few things I’ve heard over the last couple of years since taking photography seriously. For a while I held onto many things because I was in awe, an industry where i believed I was being praised for being myself, was in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing – so I started @niiagency and @Niijournal. Fast forward to 2020 and I STILL experience the same micro racists comments from insiders of the fashion industry. Am I still in awe, of course. The silence within the fashion industry it’s deafening. When monuments such as the Notre Dame are burning they flock together immediately and put their money where their mouth is. For black lives ? Instagram feeds. EVERY BLACK PERSON IN THE INDUSTRY IS PHENOMENAL. WE ARE EXCELLENT. WE ARE TALENTED. WHY? because the day yo day hardships we have faced to just be at this so called “table” you can not even fathom. The sheer nerve for insides to stop people’s bags due to status symbol or skin colour is WHITE RAGE. As a black person in the fashion industry I can tell you there’s no room for mediocrity within my art space. It has to be daring it has to be bold it has to thought provoke and yall love it. So the “fashion” industry what are you REALLY doing for black creatives ?
In Vogue, UK editor Edward Enninful calls for recognition of the “importance of cultivating an anti-racist agenda”. “This is an evolving conversation,” writes Enninful, “and it requires evolving education. We have to keep educating ourselves and our neighbours, or the atrocities won’t stop. I do not condone the violence that is breaking out across America and other cities. I am not condoning the lootings. I support free speech, and the rights of people to protest, though I would caution that people make adequate safety arrangements in the light of the pandemic. I am convinced that we need to fight racism, to convert knowledge into anti-racism. And we need to do it together.
“Fashion has a part to play in this,” he continues. “It occupies a unique place in the zeitgeist, and it has a singular ability to shift mindsets. I implore fashion brands, publications and retailers to employ more people from diverse backgrounds – I truly believe this is the only way to effect real change. We need black people ingrained within the infrastructure of the fashion industry, not just on the other side of the camera or appearing on an Instagram feed. People need a seat at the table.”
This is a viewpoint echoed in a recent piece in CR by Stormzy collaborator and writer Jude Yawson about racism in the UK. “There is a grave and systematic error that pits people against each other, which has become the mainstay of the country,” writes Yawson. “If we want to reach a state of equality, the experiences of black and ethnic minorities must be recognised alongside wider Britishness. Whether it’s politically, or in the media, or in social media and its algorithms, creating our echo chambers of people – this society as a whole needs to do better.”
Diversity in the creative industries has been talked about for years, but, as is clear in the responses to Floyd’s death, change has not happened fast enough and there is a need for action as well as conversation. There is an opportunity here for the creative industries to respond to these terrible events by using its skills, talents and power to bring about real change and create a better world for us all.