No, corporations can’t be woke


Image by HenningE from Pixabay

As Disney and other corporations have discovered, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to please all consumers when it comes to a firm’s degree of “wokeness.”

Asher Meklin, Acalanes High School

The phrase “Woke Disney” blares out on Florida televisions as Governor Ron DeSantis discusses the corporation’s recent pullout from donating to his and other conservative politicians’ campaigns. Viewers at home might wonder as to the intentions of the statement or how a company can be woke in the first place.

 In recent years, major corporations have used progressive values to help their brand image. The question arises, however, of whether these corporations can truly live up to the progressive or woke values they claim to uphold.

The term woke refers to the state of being culturally conscious of the circumstances around you and the socioeconomic realities of the modern world. First put into use in the 1960s in African American Vernacular English to mean informed or aware, the word has spiraled into popularity in recent years through social media.

As more and more segments of the population become aware of the term and the progressive politics frequently associated with it, the corporate world has responded through its own attempt to engage in woke policies. Whether it is a Chase Bank-sponsored float at a Pride parade or a Black Lives Matter post on an Instagram page, corporations have recently taken to endorsing particular political stances through proclamations of support or pledges to do better.

The largest and most recent example of a major company claiming support for a given progressive cause has been the Walt Disney Corporation pulling donations from various Florida politicians who endorsed the controversial HB-1557, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prevents Florida educators from discussing LGBT-related topics in early primary school and allows for private citizens to sue teachers accused of breaking this law.

The law also stipulates that LGBT-related topics will be discussed in middle or high school and must be “age appropriate,” raising the question of what can be considered age appropriate by the state of Florida.

In late March, Disney pulled funding that it had previously donated to Florida politicians, including Representative Joe Harding and State Senator Dennis Baxley, the Republican co-sponsors of the bill. Disney had been supporting these politicians, among others, in order to protect its self-governing status of the Disney World amusement park located in Orlando.

Amidst a wave of backlash from all ends of the political aisle, with liberals dismissing it as too little, too late and conservatives criticizing the move to pull funding as a whole, Disney was backed into a corner as it became the center of national attention.

Despite Disney’s withdrawal of funds in a move that aimed to protect its political reputation, critics debated the legitimacy and intentions of the mega-corporation’s political efforts.

Given the fact that Disney has had a mixed history in regards to LGBT representation in the past, with over a dozen characters labeled as “Disney’s first gay character(s)” appearing in their media despite receiving little screentime, Disney’s practice of political funding and withdrawal of those funds is part of a broader picture of the company’s attempts to appeal to both sides of the political aisle.

By appearing to be woke through its gay characters while simultaneously giving them less screentime when compared to their straight counterparts and by giving and revoking funds to certain politicians based on their views on or legislation in regards to LGBT issues, Disney is attempting to secure its position as a favored children’s film producer with both sides of the political aisle. This dual-sided activism can lead to public relations disasters, such as the one surrounding HB-1557.

However, Disney is not the only corporation teetering on this line. In recent years, a multitude of massive corporations have attempted to use progressive language or terminology to market their products or attract employees, with issues that span from racial justice to maternity leave.

One company in particular, Amazon, frequently advertises itself as “Earth’s Safest Place to Work” on the section of its website dedicated to employee relations. This slogan, however, does not hold – in recent months, there have been several incidents that directly contradict this mantra.

In December 2021, an Amazon warehouse in Illinois was hit by a tornado while the facility was operational. Six employees were killed during the storm, and multiple others were injured. Hours prior to the incident, multiple employees requested to leave the facility due to the harsh weather conditions and were denied and threatened with termination if they left before their shift was over.

This unfortunate incident, among others, illustrates the contrast between Amazon’s stated intentions and their actual applications. Though Amazon describes itself as striving to be Earth’s Safest Place to Work, this incident and others like it continue to mar the company’s reputation.

Amazon also has made multiple statements both on its website and on various forms of social media where it claims to support racial inclusivity and equity, with many of these statements being made around the time frame of the rise of BLM protests in 2020.

However, there have been multiple lawsuits filed against the corporation in recent months alleging racial discrimination in promotions and wages, with the plaintiffs of several cases stating their belief that Amazon is prioritizing white employees for promotions and pay raises.

Despite the company’s statements on racial equity, the existence of these cases questions the extent to which these progressive ideals are upheld on a day-to-day basis at Amazon’s warehouses and facilities. The company’s social media posts and other forms of communication serve as a false front of progressivism, with little substance or action backing them up.

Both Amazon and Disney, along with a slew of other companies, have been using progressive or woke language in the past half-decade to promote the consumption of their products or to attract employees to their workplaces. This trend, however, does not translate to the on-the-ground reality of these companies, as their practices tend to subvert their stated values.

So, the question remains: Amidst an onslaught of contradictory statements and actions issued by megacorporations over recent years, how woke can a corporation really be?

Answer: Not very.