What does salad have to do with racial justice? Promoting solidarity in the time of COVID-19
Keywords:emails, solidarity, racial capitalism, social movemenbts, corporate-social responsibility, mediated communication, networked society
In the late spring and summer of 2020, a local build-your-own salad restaurant chain, along with many mid-size corporations and local non-profit organizations, sent an e-mail statement in response to the death of George Floyd by the police. Different from corporations and large institutions, these businesses and organizations — what we collectively term the “salad group” within our sample — associated their product or service (ranging from salads to yoga mats to chocolate) with the project of creating a more local, socially just, and inclusive community. A thematic analysis of 81 crowdsourced organization e-mail messages identified the use of both internal and external appeals for action, although organizations chiefly focused on their internal actions. Our analysis revealed that these e-mails primarily offered solutions that invited or highlighted Black participation in their business enterprises. We describe such statements as salad solidarity, a genre of promotion that simultaneously appeals to consumers and social change. Indeed, the framing of possible external responses as tied to consumer choice — and internal responses as tied to a company’s growth and reach — do not directly address the structural problems that spurred these e-mail campaigns. Consequently, such corporate and digital messaging of social movements provokes questions about the commercialization of political movements and the value that language and digital tools hold in building solidarity. We conclude with observations on how e-mails, and digital platforms more broadly, can and cannot facilitate political change, from the analytical lens of racial capitalism. These findings have broader implications for the study of corporate-social responsibility, networked social movements, and mediated communication.
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