Alma via JTA — In light of the murder of George Floyd and the rapid mobilization of #BlackLivesMatter protestors nationwide (and worldwide), many brands have decided to hop on the bandwagon, so to speak, and release statements of “support.”
These statements mostly fall into two categories: They are either vague language used as an attempt to virtue signal without really saying anything, or they say Black Lives Matter and directly call out white supremacy, structural inequalities, and police brutality while calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all unarmed Black people killed by the police.
Essentially: They are either not Ben & Jerry’s, or they are Ben & Jerry’s.
Ben & Jerry’s is the iconic ice cream brand founded in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Ben and Jerry were childhood pals, both growing up in Jewish families on Long Island. Growing up in Merrick, New York, Ben dreamed of becoming “a modern-day Judah Maccabee” because “he seemed like a really good guy. He helped his people and he gave the world Hanukkah.” Jerry was more realistic, thinking he “wanted to become a doctor,” because “it’s what Jewish kids from Long Island who were good in science did.” Obviously, Ben did not become a modern-day Judah Maccabee and Jerry did not become a doctor, but they instead have gifted us with something far superior: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
In building their company, they consciously chose to make it a socially responsible business. As Ben explained in 1994, “It’s a business that cares about people, that seeks to use its power to improve the quality of life within society. It seeks profits and tries to integrate spiritual and social concerns into day-to-day activities. Typical businesses tend to do everything in terms of narrow self-interest. They want to maximize profitability and quality. We add a third factor: impact on the community, on the consumer, on our employees.”
The company does this not just by releasing political flavors — like EmpowerMINT to bring attention to voter suppression in North Carolina in 2016; Pecan Resist, a tribute to liberal activist groups ahead of the 2018 midterm elections; I Dough, I Dough to celebrate marriage equality — but actually releasing statements on the company website, history lessons, and plans to action.
For example, here’s an August 2019 post on the legacy of slavery to mass incarceration:
Here’s an article on the site discussing the plight of undocumented farmworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic:
As New York Times reporter Caity Weaver tweeted, “I hope this is not controversial to say but… replace history textbooks with the Ben & Jerry’s website.” Which, yes.
On a personal level [in 2000, they sold the company to Unilever, which has continued the founders’ activist approach], Ben and Jerry are also very politically active. As Jewish Vermonters, the two were vocal supporters of Bernie Sanders both times he ran for the presidential nomination in the Democratic primaries, and Ben even released a private label limited-edition ice cream in his honor. The two were arrested in 2016 as part of the Democracy Awakening protests at the US Capitol. Their message? As the company website reads: “dough belongs in ice cream and not in politics, and that voting should be accessible to everyone.”
They also joined in Jane Fonda’s Fire Drill Fridays:
(Before you move on, please zoom in on Jerry’s hat. The tiny embroidered Jewish stars! We have to stan!!)
“The history of our country is that nothing happens,” Ben said, “until people start putting their bodies on the line and risk getting arrested.” With that, let’s come back to brand statements on the Black Lives Matter protests during late May/early June 2020.
Before we get to Ben & Jerry’s, let’s just take a quick look at some truly terrible ones. Here’s the San Francisco 49ers tweeting, “Black Lives Matter #BlackoutTuesday,” after quite literally firing their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, for peacefully protesting against police brutality.
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me https://t.co/4k4YrJd0sI
— Imani Gandy ☄️???????? (@AngryBlackLady) June 2, 2020
(See also: the NFL’s statement, which fails to say the words “Black,” “protest,” “brutality,” “racial” or literally anything of significance. See also: The Washington Redskins’ posting a black square. Like…. your name is REDSKINS.)
Here’s the Metropolitan Opera tweeting Black Lives Matter, saying there is no place for racism in the arts or New York City. Quickly, someone RT’d them saying that the Met has never performed the work of a Black composer.
The Met has never performed the work of a Black Composer. https://t.co/fbcBtpN4qM
— William Ottow (@Ottow_da_fe) June 1, 2020
By comparison, when Ben & Jerry’s released their statement, it felt like a breath of fresh air.
Posted to their homepage and on their social media, the post, headlined “Silence Is NOT An Option,” was paired with the image, written in classic Ben & Jerry’s font, “WE MUST DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY.”
The post begins, “All of us at Ben & Jerry’s are outraged about the murder of another Black person by Minneapolis police officers last week and the continued violent response by police against protestors. We have to speak out. We have to stand together with the victims of murder, marginalization, and repression because of their skin color, and with those who seek justice through protests across our country. We have to say his name: George Floyd.
“The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy. What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is the fruit borne of toxic seeds planted on the shores of our country in Jamestown in 1619, when the first enslaved men and women arrived on this continent. Floyd is the latest in a long list of names that stretches back to that time and that shore. Some of those names we know — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Jr. — most we don’t.”
Ben & Jerry’s then linked to their previous post for Black Lives Matter, which they shared in 2016, and then shared four concrete things they are calling for. Gotta love concrete actionable steps.
Those steps are:
“First, we call upon [US] President [Donald] Trump, elected officials, and political parties to commit our nation to a formal process of healing and reconciliation. Instead of calling for the use of aggressive tactics on protestors, the President must take the first step by disavowing white supremacists and nationalist groups that overtly support him, and by not using his Twitter feed to promote and normalize their ideas and agendas. The world is watching America’s response.”
“Second, we call upon the Congress to pass H.R. 40, legislation that would create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”
“Third, we support Floyd’s family’s call to create a national task force that would draft bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability.”
“And finally, we call on the Department of Justice to reinvigorate its Civil Rights Division as a staunch defender of the rights of Black and Brown people. The DOJ must also reinstate policies rolled back under the Trump Administration, such as consent decrees to curb police abuses.”
Twitter was super excited about Ben & Jerry’s statement, so let’s share some great tweets:
1. Our next flavor is called “BURN THE BOOTLICKERS”
Your company: “bland message about solidarity”
Ben & Jerrys: “WE HAVE THE TOOLS TO DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY AND OUR NEXT FLAVOUR IS CALLED BURN THE BOOTLICKERS!” https://t.co/huRl0tDSfQ
— Camilla Blackett (@camillard) June 2, 2020
2. They’ve always been with the shits!!!
Ben and Jerry's will put prison statistics on a tub of Rocky Road. They always been with the shits https://t.co/li0NnFmIxg
— Wee-Yum (@MrGee54) June 2, 2020
3. Ben & Jerry’s is honestly so educational:
why did Ben and Jerry’s statement on dismantling white supremacy educate me more about black history than 12 years of sitting in history class? pic.twitter.com/NiWE1ETi8s
— francine (@francine_lubin) June 2, 2020
4. Eat it in peace knowing they’re down.
ben & jerry’s might be expensive but at least i can eat it knowing they support the destruction of white supremacy
— essential lonely whore (@kindahungrym) June 3, 2020
5. THE LITERAL BAR.
Ben and Jerry's has always been THE most vocal, equity-centric, equality-driven companies in corporate America. Their company statement on what's going on is THE bar #blacklivesmatter https://t.co/CpJ6bvi9dy
— Vivianne Castillo (@vcastillo630) June 2, 2020
6. All other statements to shame.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) June 2, 2020
Alright, we’re off to eat some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream purchased at a Black-owned store, call our representatives, and donate to bail funds. Bye!