Ben & Jerry’s is taking its support for Black Lives Matter to the airwaves with a podcast that delivers an unflinching appraisal of America’s past and encourages listeners to “dismantle systemic racism” and white supremacy.
The ice cream brand, which is owned by Unilever (UL), is launching the six-part series together with Vox Media and The Who We Are Project. It links specific periods in American history to modern-day systemic racism in 30-minute episodes and premieres on September 15.
Ben & Jerry’s has a long history of social, political and environmental activism. It’s one of the few major brands to explicitly call out systemic racism in the United States and back calls to defund the police, while advocating specific policies to redress racial inequality.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, America faces a racial reckoning — one that requires an honest look at the American history that has allowed and encouraged white supremacy to thrive for the last 400 years,” the organizations that worked on the podcast said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The podcast, named “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America,” will explore slavery’s contribution to the country’s economic success and the “hidden ways” that legal discrimination continued long after its demise, “profoundly limiting Black Americans’ ability to create and accumulate wealth,” according to the statement.
“Each week we’ll explore how racism has shaped every facet of our lives and who we might become if we finally address this country’s racist history,” said author Carvell Wallace, who hosts the podcast.
The United States continues to grapple with police brutality, which provoked nationwide protests earlier this year and has prompted a wider conversation about racial injustice and inequality. Demonstrations erupted again following the police shooting in Wisconsin of Jacob Blake, which left the 29-year-old Black father paralyzed from the waist down.
“We now sit at a critical inflection point in our nation’s history,” Ben & Jerry’s US activism manager, Jabari Paul, said in a statement. “If we are to seize the opening that this moment presents, we must be willing to acknowledge the sins of our past so that we move together toward a future of justice and equity.”
Ben & Jerry’s said its work with Who We Are is “entirely different” from previous work sponsoring or advertising on podcasts. The brand worked with Vox Media to help manage the production of the podcast, according to Chris Miller, its head of global activism strategy.
“Our company has been centering our activism and advocacy work in the US on issues of racial justice and equity for the last five years and specifically on the need to reform our nation’s criminal justice system for the last two years,” said global head of integrated marketing Jay Curley. “This podcast is part of our larger body of work on these issues.”
An increasing number of companies, from McDonald’s (MCD) and General Electric (GE) to Sephora and Goldman Sachs (GS), have turned to podcasts in recent years as a vehicle for brand building, reputation management or to showcase expertise in areas that relate to their products.
Of the 25 largest Fortune 500 companies, 68% hosted their own podcasts in 2019, according to Deloitte. Almost all the world’s largest law, tax, accounting and consulting firms have “dozens or even hundreds of series,” usually associated with a specific service line, it said in a recent report. But few tackle sensitive topics.
The Who We Are podcast, produced by Vox Media’s brand studio Vox Creative, is the media company’s first original series produced in partnership with a brand, according to a spokesperson. The collaboration resembles General Electric’s 2015 podcast “The Message,” which was co-produced with Slate magazine’s podcast network, Megaphone.
Confronting racism in America
The Who We Are podcast is based on a presentation by Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is also due to be released as a documentary.
Robinson gave a version of the presentation to some Ben & Jerry’s employees last year. “We were so moved by both the content and Jeffery’s delivery that we felt it important that everyone have access to this important telling of America’s history that has been hiding in plain sight,” said Curley.
Ben & Jerry’s is based in Vermont, where it has a headquarters and two manufacturing plants. The racial makeup of its workforce in the state reflects that of the general population, which is 94% White. According to the company, the workforce at its 600 retail locations more closely represents the racial diversity of the United States.
“We realize we are a company with a primarily white employee base in Vermont, and we understand we must commit to specific internal action to create racial equity and address the lack of diversity within our company,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Ben & Jerry’s said its plan includes working with suppliers, cultural change and expanding its presence in communities of color through its franchise network. The company said it would make its racial equity goals public so it can be held accountable.
Robinson, a criminal defense lawyer and Harvard Law School graduate, spent nine years researching the presentation that led to the podcast. The project began in 2011 when a nephew moved to Seattle to live with Robinson and his wife.
“I found myself saying to him the exact same things that my father had said to me about how to survive as a black man in America. And they were the exact same things that my father’s father had said to him,” Robinson told CNN Business. “This was tearing me apart, as I thought when does this end?”
“Who We Are is dedicated to making sure that whichever way we go, we go in that direction with knowledge of exactly what we’ve done in the past,” he added.