Emily Articulated: Ulterior motivation

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

Of the few human behaviors I dislike outright, one that I particularly struggle with is ulterior motivation — being deliberately unclear about agendas in order to achieve some secret or unexpressed goal. My dislike applies to interpersonal relationships, like someone wanting something from me, but instead of explicitly asking for it, trying to con or manipulate me into giving it of my “own” volition (I’m the youngest sibling of three, so I have a lifetime of experience seeing through veiled coercion).

Emily Erickson.

But, more vehemently than at the interpersonal level, I dislike ulterior motivation from people and organizations with influence and power. It occurs regularly in politics, with candidates masking their primary agendas of being re-elected or personally profiting, by parroting the “beliefs” that they feel most likely to achieve those ends. And it occurs, with exceeding prevalence, at the hands of corporations tokeniz-ing social movements for capitalistic gain.

Every year on June 1 we’re inundated with business and brands turning their products and services “rainbow” — from clothes to food labels to corporate logos — kicking off Pride Month with technicol-ored mayo (or whatever). If the majority of these efforts were actually aimed at benefiting and supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer plus (LGBTQ+) community, it would be amazing.

But, when corporations en-gaging in Pride branding either fall short of promoting equality and furthering the efforts of the LGBTQ+ community — or in some cases, even actively fund politicians opposing equitable legislation — this celebration isn’t allyship. It’s marketing. This marketing, or a version of performative allyship, is the act of making a broad and symbolic gesture, without taking any action to actually improve the status of the marginalized group being “championed.”

It’s Home Depot and AT&T rainbow-washing their logos for a month, while simultaneously donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislators with anti-LGBTQ+ voting records. It’s in even less obvious ex-amples, like Kim Kardashian posting a rainbow-backed avatar to promote her video game while exclaiming, “Happy Pride!” on June 1 last year — promptly to be destroyed by Twitter, with my personal favorite retort by @TMahogany44 exclaiming, “What’s wrong with y’all?! Can’t you say Happy Pride Month without selling something?”

@TMahogany44 got to the heart of it. If people and businesses are going to cele-brate a social movement, they should do it without an ulterior motive. If they’re going to be about something, they should be about it authentically. Being about something honors its history and origin story, with the first Pride marches commemorating the Stonewall Uprising in 1969; thousands of people gathering to demonstrate for their right to live openly and safely as themselves. Activist Foster Gunnison Jr. reflected on the first march, explaining “Each of these 5,000 homosexuals had a new feeling of pride and self-confidence, for that was one of the main purposes of the event-to commemorate, to demonstrate, but also to raise the consciences of participating homosexuals to develop courage, and feelings of dignity and self-worth.”

Being about something authentically is being about it year round, not just when there’s a marketing opportunity associated with it. Businesses that allocate resources to continued education around the LGBTQ+ community and their initiatives, who actively seek a diverse and inclusive workplace (and unique workplace benefits), and who take measures to support aligned organizations are actual allies.

It’s Coca-Cola scoring 100% on the Human Rights Campain Corpate Equality Index, offering transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage and funding legislation aimed at fighting anti-LGBTQ+ bills. It’s Ralph Lauren supporting the LGBTQ+ community for decades, partner-ing with the Stonewall Commu-nity Foundation, working with LGBTQ+ teens, and creating a gender-neutral polo line, with a portion of proceeds being direct-ly donated in impactful ways.

And it’s Apple, with a celebrated Employee Resource Program dubbed [email protected], and a yearly Pride watch line financially benefiting organizations like GLSEN, PFLAG, The Trevor Project and more.

At a time of rising social awareness, it’s important to also be wary of ulterior motives — people and businesses tokenizing important causes for profits that the community being “celebrated” will never see. And, when we can, we should extend our support to those who are authentic allies, peeling back the rainbow labels to discover who is doing the real work and who is simply marketing.

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