The radicalization of the Ben & Jerry’s PR department has been one of the stranger spectacles of recent years. After all, for all its hippyish origins and homespun shtick, Ben & Jerry’s is a corporate giant flogging expensive ice creams with wacky names like Cherry Garcia and Truffle Kerfuffle. And yet it has become remarkably preoccupied with virtue-signaling and moral hectoring. It is hard to tell whether this is a deliberate strategy for attention, or if someone’s pious nephew has simply seized control of the social-media accounts at head office.
Following the killing of George Floyd last year, Ben & Jerry’s made a solemn pledge to help ‘dismantle white supremacy’. ‘Silence is NOT an option’, it thundered. Last summer, it took some shots at the UK home secretary over her handling of the channel crossings. ‘Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. We pulled together a thread for you,’ it posted on Twitter. The thread consisted of a couple of points nicked from the Guardian, Huffpost and migration activists.
Even before 2020, when Black Lives Matter took the corporate world by storm, Ben & Jerry’s was breaking new ground for woke capitalism. In 2017, it banned the sale of two scoops of the same flavor in its Australian shops as some sort of twee protest against opponents of gay marriage. At the height of the Trump presidency it put out a new flavor called Pecan Resist. Just in case the message proved too subtle, it explicitly said ‘this flavor supports groups creating a more just and equitable nation for us all, and who are fighting President Trump’s regressive agenda’.
Now, following the horrific police killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota, it has doubled down on its support for the ‘Defund the Police’ movement: ‘The murder of #DaunteWright is rooted in white supremacy and results from the intentional criminalization of Black and Brown communities. This system can’t be reformed. It must be dismantled and a real system of public safety rebuilt from the ground up. #DefundThePolice.’
(In this, these brave, ice-cream-slinging warriors for racial justice seem to be putting themselves at odds with much of the black community. According to Gallup, while black Americans of course want better policing, 81 percent still want police to spend the same amount of time or more time in their area.)
The Great Awokening of Ben & Jerry’s, and corporate America more broadly, is confusing on the face of it. How can cash-stuffed capitalists pose as progressive freedom-fighters? Won’t this incessant hectoring hurt their bottom lines? But then again it is also a reminder that woke politics is elite politics. The rise of virtue-signaling, the mouthing of slogans and platitudes in place of actually doing anything, suits big business well: they can get social-media cred while giving nothing up.
More than that, it is a convenient cover for the fact that most of the firms who have gone woke recently are up to their necks in questionable ventures and exploitation. Ben & Jerry’s calls on ‘white America… to collectively acknowledge its privilege’. And yet its parent company, Unilever, continues to flog skin-lightening cream around the world. Ben & Jerry’s had a pop at Priti Patel over immigration, even though it has been the target of protests by migrant workers who have alleged awful, exploitative practices in the firm’s supply chain.
Wokeness, it seems, has become a kind of salve to the capitalist’s guilty conscience. Indeed, a worldview that insists that race, rather than class, is what divides us is no doubt appealing to people sitting on huge sums of money. Anyone still laboring under the presumption that there is anything progressive about the identitarian left should ask themselves why huge corporations are so desperate to get in on the act.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.