Months into nationwide protests over racial injustice, a majority of American consumers continue to believe that brands should speak out publicly about systemic racism and racial injustice, according to a special report recently released by the Edelman Trust Barometer.
The report, “The Fight For Racial Justice In America,” shows that 54% of a national sample of U.S. adults surveyed agreed with the statement about brands playing a role. That’s up from 51% when Edelman fielded a similar survey Aug. 21, but down from 60% when the firm researched it June 7.
Edelman surveyed 2,000 general population respondents, properly sampled according to age, gender, region and ethnicity, in two studies for the report, one Aug. 14–21, then again after the Kenosha, Wisconsin incident Aug. 28–31. From this research, Edelman concluded America’s need to address systemic racism is not going away – and business and brands are expected to take the lead in addressing it.
Systemic racism has been a reality in the U.S. – historically and today. In the research, the firm found the concern and call to address it is one shared by Blacks, Whites and other communities. The findings indicate that government is now not trusted to make the change.
The mainstream media is seen as reinforcing stereotypes and is doing a poor job of covering protests, leading to further reliance on social media as a primary source of information, though neither are credible venues for diverse communities. Finally, the research found that business is the institution that all communities are looking for to make the change – but it is failing to seize the moment and move quickly on tangible actions, leading to a substantial gap between expectation and performance.
Here is some of the top supporting data, according to the report:
- The Black Community Stands Apart from Other Diverse Groups – 80% of Blacks say that brands and corporations must speak out against systemic racism, versus 66% of Latin and 54% of Asian Americans. There is consistently a 10-point difference for Blacks from Whites and a 10-point difference between Blacks and Latin and Asian Americans.
- Recognition of Systemic Racism Increased after the Jacob Blake Shooting – more than three-quarters of Americans see that systemic racism and racial injustice exist in the U.S. today (76 %). The Black community remained the highest at 88% while the White communities appreciation grew 5 points to 71%. Support for the protests also soared among Republicans, though from a low base (up 17 points to 38 %); contrast that to Democrats at 78 %.
- The Age Divide is Evident – young people (18–34) are much more inclined to support the protests (69%) versus their parents (55+) at 48%. The same divide applies to support of Black Lives Matter, with 67 % of the 18–34s and 50 % of the 55+.
- The Government is Failing – only 36 % say that government is hearing the call for racial justice. That is amazingly consistent for White, Black, Latin and Asian American respondents. There is only slightly more trust in local government officials than federal officials as spokespeople (44 % vs. 36 %), again consistent among all four ethnic groups. There is a huge gap between White and Black respondents on trust in local police officials (52 % vs. 34 %).
- The Media Are Seen as Fueling Racism – mainstream and social media trail advocacy organizations and activist organizations as trusted information sources for Blacks and Latin by about ten points. In a stunning finding, 30% of Whites believe that there is no trustworthy information source. Only 17% of Republicans feel that mainstream media is the place for truth about racism. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that the media focuses too much on rioting and not enough on peaceful protests, led by Latinx at 70% and Blacks at 67%. And two-thirds of Blacks feel that the media promote and perpetuate stereotypes of people of color, versus only 44% of Whites.
- Business to Lead – more than half of the respondents say that business has heard the call for racial justice (52%), sixteen points higher than government (36 %). Nearly half (42%) of the respondents say that brands and corporations must fill the leadership void left by government. Two-thirds of respondents also want brands and companies to speak out against violence inflicted on those participating in protests, including those who do not personally support the protests. Small business is substantially more trusted than large corporations (6 % versus 43%), with big companies scoring especially low with Black respondents (37%). We are getting recognized for progress in redressing racism at work across all groups (59%). The central role of business is underlined by the fact that 77% of the U.S. population says it is deeply important that companies respond to racial injustice to earn or keep their trust.
- Both Corporations and Brands Are Expected to Take a Stand on Racism – this is a striking complement to a June report, where attention mostly focused on brands, leading Edelman to conclude that the issue has become transversal for companies. There is a major difference between Black and White respondents, with 81% of Blacks and only 54% of Whites believing that corporations should publicly speak out against racial injustice. And now the most important motivation for companies is to satisfy their employees (52%), not insisting that my brands stand with me (37%).
- Companies Are Failing to Deliver – too much talk, not enough walk. Business is failing to act on racism, with major gaps between expectation and performance among all ethnic groups. On Create Change, there is a 27-point gap), on Educate and Influence, there is a 25-point gap and, for Get Their Own House in Order, a 28-point gap. Blacks identify performance gaps ranging from 41 to 45 points, Latin, 27 points, and Asian Americans, 30 points. Words without action are dismissed as performative and exploitative, with three-quarters of Blacks saying brands and companies need to follow up statements of support for racial equality with concrete action. Under half of respondents (4%) believe that the business community has taken concrete action. Three-quarters of Black respondents see racism within their organizations; two-thirds of Latinx say the same.
- CEOs Get Low Marks – in an alarming finding, company CEOs are the least trusted of twenty spokespeople (32%) on racial injustice; below Republican leaders (33%) and half as trusted as social scientists and experts on race (63%). Seventy-one percent said that most CEOs are incapable of recognizing racism around them. Meanwhile, the bar is raised for CEOs, with 55 % saying they have to be actively anti-racist (65% of Blacks), to address racism within their own companies but also must speak out against racism in the community.
- Actions Must Be Focused – businesses can take several steps to drive change, but they must be focused. Sixty-one percent of respondents say that companies need to establish zero-tolerance policies toward racism and ensure that all levels of the company are racially representative (59%). But business is also expected to address the root causes of racism (54%), with higher scores for Black respondents (71%).