Ah, late May is finally here: the weather is getting warmer, the sunlight lasts far longer, the leaves and grass are lush and aplenty, and pride month 2021 is just days away. As a bisexual woman, and a lover of all things good, I’m a big fan of pride month and what it symbolizes. Even as a twenty-three-year-old, I like to take time to reflect on how I’ve seen love and acceptance become normalized in my own lifetime, and I take the time to remember and to thank the LGBTQIA+ icons that have paved the way for love to prevail.
Part of why I love pride is the sheer pageantry and showmanship that’s involved. I love how homes, streets, and people are often decorated in rainbows and the specific colors with which they identify. The world seems to come alive during pride with vibrant colors that scream “joy is everywhere, and love wins.” I really can’t think of a better way to enjoy the beginning of the summer.
Because of Covid-19, both last year’s pride month and this year’s pride month have proven to be more of a challenge than in years past. With several pride rallies, parades, and parties being undoable in wake of a global pandemic, there is even more of a push to celebrate pride in different, yet still loud and impactful ways.
Because they’re obviously a lot of restrictions on traditional pride activities and celebrations, this could push a lot of us into spending more money on pride merch, like hats, t-shirts, and accessories.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rainbow outfit; I love pride merch; the problem arises when we get into the concept of rainbow capitalism and why consuming an array of products from companies looking to appropriate and financially gain from LGBT culture is inherently counter-productive and harmful.
What is Rainbow Capitalism?
Otherwise known as pink-capitalism or gay-capitalism, rainbow capitalism is essentially the act of a brand or company profiting from pride month or LGBT pride in general. Huge brands will slap rainbows on basically anything that a rainbow can be printed on and sell it to the masses in order to profit from the power of queer people and queer liberation.
My best example is probably Target; anyone who’s been in a Target in May or June knows what I’m talking about—hell, I’m Canadian, and I’m super familiar with Target pride. You walk into a Target in the summer and you’re absolutely punched in the face by rainbow shirts, hats, mugs, bandanas, swimsuits; you name it! The problem here is not with the normalization of these very important LGBT+ symbols and their relevancy, the problem is that Target is using these symbols as a way to sell queer people their own culture back to them, and expand their immense empire. By capitalizing on queer liberation, we’re actively cheapening the importance of these symbols and making money off of the people in these marginalized communities.
I like to compare rainbow capitalism to the ‘uncanny valley’ phenomenon. For those who don’t know, ‘uncanny valley’ is this feeling of unease or suspicion that we humans get when looking at a robot that looks very human and lifelike. Basically, our brains are kind of seeing this robot as a person because they look so much like one, but something in the back of our brain is sending a red flag because there’s something not quite human about it.
When I look at Target, Amazon, or Walmart’s pride collection, I feel a bit of uncanny valley, because something isn’t *quite* right. These corporations will appropriate gay slang, colors, and trends, but they don’t quite know how to properly use them which totally leads to an imposter kind of feeling.
Why Should We Be Wary of Rainbow Capitalism?
Summarized in a few words, the main issue with rainbow capitalism is that it is inherently exploitative. It’s a thinly veiled attempt at making an easy buck every June, and it’s always successful. Rainbow capitalism is exploiting the spaces and symbols that queer people fought and laid down their lives for to make themselves richer and more popular, and this is where we find the intersection of distaste and appropriation, greed, and moral ambiguity.
A great example of rainbow capitalism being so distasteful—once again—comes from Target’s pride line for 2021. This year, on a graphic t-shirt Target, printed a picture of Marsha P. Johnson holding a sign that reads “power to the people”.
In case you need a quick history lesson, Marsha P. Johnson was a trans woman of color who fought relentlessly for queer liberation in the sixties through the nineties, and she was a very prominent and influential figure in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 in New York City. Marsha P. Johnson is often regarded as the mother of gay pride, and without her who knows where we’d be in regard to queer liberation. Marsha P. Johnson also died very mysteriously in 1992 at just 46 when her body was found in the Hudson River. Although her death was ruled a suicide, the shoddy police work and the lack of a suicide note suggest that she was murdered.
Marsha P. Johnson was an incredible black, trans activist who fought against the institutions that confined her, and for this multi-billion dollar company to capitalize off of her image and the queer culture that she had a hand in cultivating is nauseating.
Shop Thoughtfully During Pride
Listen, we are not all perfect.
Have I participated in rainbow capitalism? Of course.
Part of the appeal of places like Walmart and Target having their own Pride line is that their apparel and knick-knacks are very inexpensive and accessible to almost everyone. Not everyone has the access to sustainable clothing and they still want to participate in Pride and wear a fun t-shirt, I totally get it!
The point of this article is not to tell anyone where to shop or how to consume, because every person has their own financial and physical limits.
If you’re going to take anything from this article, I hope that it’s this message: Shop Thoughtfully During Pride.
Ask questions about the brands you’re supporting. Is a portion of the profits going to an LGBT+-based charity? If so, which one? Who do these brands support politically? Who do they donate to when it isn’t pride month? Is there an alternative from a more ethical vendor for this item? Can I afford to buy it from an authentic source? Is there something similar at a small business? Can I make this product myself?
Enjoy pride, dress up, have fun, but also (like in any other situation) be thoughtful about what you consume and why.
Have a safe and happy pride month!