The World is Listening: How Entertainment is Changing in the Name of Racial Equality

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  • by Jason Geis

George Floyd.  Breonna Taylor.  Ahmaud Arbery. Their deaths have sparked a massive worldwide movement for racial justice and equality. Some of the most painful downfalls and shortcomings of our society have been thrust into the spotlight over the past few months, for all to see. People who have had the privilege of never experiencing systemic racism are beginning to see that it is not enough to simply not be racist. It is not enough to not be part of the problem. To enact true change in the world, we must be part of the solution. We must be anti-racist.

The first step in solving any problem is to understand the problem. Millions of people in the United States had never experienced the problem of systemic racism, so they were not aware of its existence. But now, many are seeing the extent of the damage that a broken system has done to an entire race of people and are determined to help fix it, so they are starting from the very beginning: understanding the problem. From music to television to sports to social media, the entire entertainment industry is working to lift Black voices and to allow the oppressed to tell their stories. And for what feels like the first time, the entire world is listening.

What’s Happening

“Black Lives Matter.” A phrase once deemed too controversial and too political is now being plastered on city streets, social media posts, and corporate brand statements. Companies across all industries are making statements to condemn systemic racism and many are literally putting their money where their mouths are by making sizable donations to fund anti-racism initiatives around the world. Many of these companies, however, understand that money can only do so much to fix these deep issues, and are working hard on a more sustainable and longer-lasting solution: education.

If you’ve opened up just about any television and movie streaming service in the last few months, you’ve likely seen a section dedicated to promoting Black culture and the stories of oppression that affect Black people in America. These stories are incredibly important for white people to see the kinds of struggles that Black Americans still face today. And to understand the reasons for those struggles. Netflix has added a “Black Lives Matter” genre to their catalog that includes 13th, a documentary highlighting how privatized prisons use a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, except as a punishment for crime. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Black adults make up 13% of the U.S. population but make up a staggering 40% of the U.S. prison population. HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have also promoted new categories to highlight Black voices on their platforms.

The music industry was incredibly quick to react to the movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Two Black music executives started the movement #TheShowMustBePaused in order to promote Black music and hold the rest of the music industry accountable for the inequality that has long existed in music and the world. This movement spurred the widely supported #blackouttuesday on social media, where people remained silent on social media to let the voices of the oppressed speak up and be heard, and posted black squares in support of these voices. Spotify and Apple Music, the two largest music streaming services both promoted Black musicians. Apple Music stripped their curated playlists in favor of one single streaming station of Black artists. Spotify added 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to playlists to bring awareness to the movement and pushed podcasts that told Black stories and perspectives. 

Artists also refused to stay silent. Run the Jewels released their newest album, RTJ4, for free a week early. Never afraid to shy away from social justice issues, their powerful and angry single, “Walking in the Snow” was written months before George Floyd was murdered. But in order to help energize the movement for equality, the brand released the song written by Killer Mike with this verse:  

And everyday on evening news they feed you fear for free

And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me

And 'til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, "I can't breathe"

And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV

The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy

But truly the travesty, you've been robbed of your empathy

Finally, sports leagues across the country, in the past shying away from making statements on social justice, have made strong statements as they slowly returned to live sports. NASCAR made the decision to ban the Confederate flag and deemed it a symbol of racism and oppression. Bubba Wallace, the league’s only Black driver, drove in a car with a #BlackLivesMatter paint scheme, and the rest of the league’s drivers stood with him and gave their support. Other leagues returning to play including the NWSL, MLS, NBA, WNBA, and MLB are allowing their players to make statements for social justice in different ways. Black Lives Matter shirts are seen during pregame and on the sidelines, as well as kneeling before games in show of support for the movement. After months of canceled and postponed sporting events, people are tuning in to the return of professional sports at an astounding level. Players recognize that and want to get their messages out to everyone, whether the viewers are comfortable or not

Why It’s Important

A common sentiment that I have heard from people during this movement is that since they are not racist, then they are not a part of the problem, and therefore have no responsibility to act. To be honest, I was personally of that opinion in the past. I knew racism was a problem in this country, but I did not think I could do anything about it since I was not contributing to it. However, during the past few months, my eyes have been opened to how widespread the problem truly is. Through listening to these Black voices that have been lifted in our time of change, I have seen how the Black people in my own life have faced challenges that I, as a white man, have never experienced.

This movement to elevate Black voices is working. People are being educated by the television they watch, the music they listen to, and the people they look up to. Just as important as the education that comes from listening, is the empathy that the media instills in people. Watching movies and television shows that feature the stories of Black characters in racially charged situations, allows us to connect with these characters and vicariously experience the pains and challenges that they face, thus hopefully opening the eyes of people who may have been blind to the injustices that occur every day.

If we keep listening to Black voices, keep seeing the inequality in our society, keep getting sad, keep getting angry, keep communicating with and educating others, this world can realize the change that it needs in order for all people to feel like they belong and are supported. The world is changing for the better and will continue to do so, as long as we listen and develop empathy for the people in our society who need love and support.

#BlackLivesMatter now and forever.