Rainbow capitalism: solidarity or superficial support?
Oliver Leader de Saxe explores the concept of rainbow capitalism and whether corporations‘ support is more than superficial.
The rainbow flag has been synonymous with the LGBT community since the 1970s. It has since become a symbol of pride for a community that has faced discrimination and prejudice for centuries. But recently corporations have come under fire for cynically turning such imagery into a tone-deaf campaign of support for the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Plymouth Citybus is perhaps the most egregious example, tweeting that the pride bus they unveiled in August 2019 has been rebranded “to our rainbow ‘NHS’ bus” as a way “to show our thanks to our amazing NHS and key workers”. What may have been intended as a gesture of goodwill in reality demonstrates “the systematic erasure and rebranding of LGBT+ symbology” as one Twitter user noted. Instead of providing cheaper services to key workers or NHS staff, Citybus decided to utilise pride imagery for their own PR agenda.
This recent phenomena has a lot to do with how corporations find themselves increasingly using popular social issues for profit.
According to a 2015 report from LGBT Capital, the community has an estimated global spending power of $3.7tn a year.
Companies spend a lot of money on queer-friendly advertising and large sponsorships with Pride celebrations in the hopes of tapping into this lucrative market. 16 Global Fortune 500 corporations sponsored New York Pride in 2016 alone, including Walmart and Disney.
With so much money being bandied about, these campaigns are often planned months in advance. But with Pride events through June and the summer being cancelled due to the pandemic, it’s no surprise that quick-thinking marketing executives are converting those resources into a rainbow-coloured NHS campaign to try and tap into the quarantine zeitgeist. This erasure of identity for profitability just goes to show how much corporate solidarity is just fair-weather allyship.
Yet the superficiality of ‘rainbow capitalism’ in supporting social issues isn’t just a result of extraordinary circumstances. Whilst companies like Disney may provide useful sponsorship money to Pride events that helps the LGBT+ community, they are also directly responsible for maintaining the systems and ideologies that have kept LGBT+ people oppressed for so long.
Take the queer-baiting of Disney films. Arguably, if Disney truly cared about the issues facing the community, their representation of said community wouldn’t boil down to a throwaway line in the latest Pixar film, or a momentary same-sex kiss at the end of Rise of Skywalker, both of which were edited out or replaced when the films were released in foreign markets like Singapore or Russia. When it came to making a stand or making money, Disney chose the latter.
But this is an issue that extends far beyond the LGBT community. Hypocritical support from corporations on the issues that they capitalise on abounds everywhere. Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson noted that “bubble-bound marketers have been climbing over themselves to speak out” about recent police brutality protests across America “while making zero difference to anything or anyone in the real world”. Companies like Nike and Adidas have made insincere gestures of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, whilst simultaneously having predominately white leadership teams and supply chains which exploit the global legacy of colonialism.
Take a recent statement by Amazon, saying they “stand in solidarity with the black community – our employees, customers, and partners – in the fight against systemic racism and injustice”. Yet their actions indicate anything but solidarity.
According to the Independent, over 85% of their black employees work in warehouses with dire working conditions and low pay.
But worse than that, Amazon directly benefits from systemic police brutality by selling facial recognition technology 100 times more likely to misidentify ethnic minorities than white people. This is the same technology being utilised by the Metropolitan Police and ICE, which increases the risk of discrimination against these same groups. Instead of actually helping end oppressive policing by discontinuing these services, all Amazon have done is give a misleading gesture of goodwill in a time where silence is seen as complicity by consumers.
This isn’t to say the money these conglomerates spend on social issues isn’t useful. The LGBT and BAME communities are disproportionately affected by poverty. Any monetary or cultural support should be seen as a good thing. It’s just that this money does come with the caveat of delaying long-term systemic change. The abandonment of the LGBT community in the UK and appropriation of protests in the US reveals that these issues are nothing but a marketing gimmick to these organisations. No amount of superficial good deeds are going to change that. Because, at the end of the day, corporations they aren’t our friends. And they certainly aren’t our allies.