A few days I ago I put up an article on LinkedIn asking the cannabis industry to leave Sha’Carri Richardson alone.
It’s not that we shouldn’t support her. We absolutely should.
But the industry is veering off the path of support and onto the path of exploitation. Using her name in posts talking about products, suggesting she should change paths to be a cannabis ambassador and even going so far as to slap a logo over a photo of her face at a race.
It is blatantly disrespectful to this elite athlete to continue to associate her with cannabis when she did not share her use of her own volition, and it is also exploitative.
How dare brands put a logo over her face when they are not paying her? How dare they try to coopt her moment to increase their sales and brand awareness?
If you are not paying someone, you have no right to turn their image into a piece of marketing material. And yet that’s what we’re seeing on LinkedIn, Instagram and across the web. Getting to the Olympics is a lifelong push. Throwing her face up on a photo with your cannabis brand is diminutive at best, and reductive at worst by pushing her out of her own narrative and centering your brand.
But this is particularly insidious for another reason- Sha’Carri Richardson is a Black woman, and these MSO (multi-state operators) are run by White men. This is just the latest example of white men attempting to profit off the excellence of a Black woman, without offering her a cut of the money. She is not a brand ambassador, she is not a paid spokesperson, she is an athlete. Slapping a logo over her face is the least amount of effort possible a brand could put in to capitalize on a moment, and it is offensive in it’s lack of compensation.
And I know, I know.
“Don’t make it about race.”
But I don’t have to do anything to make it about race. It’s already about race. It’s a fact Black women know all too well, and they’ve been telling us for decades. We just haven’t been listening. And frankly, if you think that race has nothing to do with this, you live in a bubble that I can’t penetrate. Google it. Find a book at the library. Take responsibility for your own education of the world you live in.
But I digress.
Sha’Carri Richardson deserves our support, and she deserves to run. But what she doesn’t deserve is to be reduced to a moment of vulnerability that she did not intend to make public. She does not deserve to be used in marketing campaigns she did not agree in, and is not compensated for.
This industry is already at a fraught moment with legalization sweeping the country. Though Black communities were the target of the War on Drugs and paid the heaviest price, White people, particularly men, are the first in line to benefit from the legalization. Though Black people make up the largest demographic incarcerated for cannabis use, they make up the smallest demographic of cannabis business owners. States with social equity requirements are failing to help without addressing the income and generation wealth inequality at the root of the issue. So where do we go from here?
Well, we don’t slap a logo over the face of a woman who is not getting paid to endorse the product.
And we hold the people who do accountable. We have a choice right now; to become an industry that pushes for the elevation of everyone or to remain an industry that only benefits the people already in power. I’m not interested in the latter, so I’ll continue to make a ruckus when shit like this goes down.