A Lifestyle blog based in Sonoma County, in the heart of Wine Country. Amber is an outspoken voice for local activism, local wine tourism, and more.

The White Answer

Today is an exciting day for me, because this is Terrance Demon''s first major feature here on A Mused Blog. He and I connect several years ago in the bloggersphere, and I have admired his creativity and tenacity in visual storytelling. He is a curator of thought-provoking think pieces (see below), a self-taught fashion designer, and someone I am proud to know. Without further ado, I present his piece The White Answer 
There’s an unforgettable line from Marion Cotillard in Dark Knight Rises that relates to the current landscape and social order of 2020: “suffering builds character”. It’s a line that’s pretty apt, considering how the facets of moral decay and eventual uprisings provide substance in the film. The ethical similarities that exist between Christopher Nolan’s film and those existing in the real world (BLM and numerous other social injustice movements) have carryover in an often overlooked area in the social space: Influencer marketing. With so many conversations about diversity within this area bubbling over into popular culture, the question still stands as to how we make meaning out of all of the buzz.

In the latter part of the decade, we’ve seen an abundance of think pieces, listicles, editorial content and a host of other articles highlighting the importance of diversity within this space. Social media is chock full of the stuff - you could get lost reading corporate speak with three part slide posts on Instagram that speak to “finding intrinsic value” in the BIPOC crowd. Hot takes for initiatives on equality are prevalent on the business forefront with sites like Forbes and Imran Ahmed’s Business of Fashion. On Fohr, the NY based Influencer marketing platform, creator/founder James Nord set a new tone in the social space with a push to having “commitment in building a better Fohr” for professionals on all fronts - BIPOC included. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with upstarts declaring change with lofty manifestos and proclamations, it wasn’t until I rejoined the community in 2018 that I noticed a few points of concern. Why was I seeing this big surge of non-POC Influencers suddenly at the forefront of a platform meant for everyone?

Fohr’s Freshman Class program is one notable example of a great idea with a tepid ending. At its outset, the project launched in 2018 as an initiative to give underrepresented Influencers a voice in the changing and (arguably imbalanced) landscape for Influencers. As of this writing, the Fohr website reads: “Over the last few years, the call for more diversity in the Influencer space has gotten louder and louder, and at Fohr, we want to use our platform as a leader in the space to amplify that message for more diversity and help provide opportunities for underrepresented voices. Fohr Freshman Class is a pilot program that is meant to provide mentorship, access and networking opportunities to Influencers who typically have been excluded by the industry”. The choice of words here is important, but not for the sake of actually delivering on that promise - it’s the irony of how much that program became the complete opposite.

In early June, Valerie Eguavoen of @onacurve and @youbelongnow on Instagram, put out an open letter speaking out against the program and had it co-signed by five other Influencers of color. At the heart of their argument, Eguavoen emphasized disparities for compensation and rate negotiation between white and BIPOC Influencers. These discriminatory practices highlighted the failure of the freshman class program and its subsequent iteration with SephoraSquad, which include: the platforms lack of follow-through with fairness/equity for black creators, stonewalling attempts to help POC Influencers earn as much as their white counterparts and vague talk tracks for change that aren’t solution-oriented. Nord has since modified his statements concerning the failure of the program and recommitted to actually fostering change, but the effects of the platform's initial response to this still linger.

The LA-based Revolve clothing brand too had its own snafu with Influencers of color relating to the #RevolveAroundTheWorld campaign. At the beginning of 2018, Revolve was called out by multiple bloggers when an Influencer trip turned into a discussion about the current state of diversity politics. Contrary to the actual state of the blogosphere, the campaign showcased a variety of IG worthy travel snaps but was completely devoid of women with curvier body types. With strides taken to narrow the gap between fair representation of organic, true-to-form positivity and the fashion industry's obsession with heightened idealization of the body, blunt whitewashing of a campaign in this era is tiring. Similar to her open letter directed to Fohr, Eguavoen also chimed in on this, continuing to point out the missteps that brands and agencies have taken in such a volatile socioeconomic and political climate.

The aforementioned volatility of the political and economic landscape has in itself become a platform that black creatives are using to drive this change. Our conversations of change started before there were egregious social injustices put upon George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. It’s existed before the #BlackLivesMatter movement entered its second wave. Before big houses like Gucci came to the fore with the tirade surrounding Dapper Dan, or with accusations brought against Prada’s sambo doll imagery. Countless other examples of tone-deafness year after year equate to a continuation of yearning for our voices to be heard and our concerns becoming top of mind for those that pull strings behind the scenes. What would this industry look like if it didn’t have the creativity of our people utilized in just about every aspect?

It stands to reason that black creatives are tired. Literally and in nearly all other points. Our efforts to pursue expression, equity and transparency in a space that operates to minimize that only fuel our desire to push further. What’s important to remember in the instances that I referenced earlier is that when we talk about true change in the Influencer space, especially those with lasting effect, these wouldn’t just include initiatives that meet expectations. It doesn’t do the community justice when brands and companies engage in performative efforts for “diversity and inclusion” (painted murals in the streets, surface-level, short term broadcasting of inclusionary practices, etc.) - rather, the conversation should turn toward a multi-level, holistic approach that exceeds our expectations and provides meaningful value.

Maybe this means that Fohr could hand the reins over to an all-POC team in re-branding the Freshman class program. Perhaps Revolve might poll its audience and fully realize a campaign wherein diversity means more than color. When we task ourselves with undertaking change, it usually starts with understanding our inner voices. When we ask this of others, we trust that the voices in the room are heard first. What does change in this space look like for you?
© A•Mused

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A Mused Blog | A Northern California Sonoma County Blog