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There has been a varied response in my community. There’s those that have felt informed enough to be confident to write their own eloquent messages of support and solidarity. Those that haven’t felt confident but have put fear of being called out aside to do it anyway, even if they have at times missed the mark. There’s been those that have seen repeated visuals and quotes being shared online which has given them the impetus and share those. Some people have posted once, others and have uploaded a constant stream of shared resources, quotes, imagery and so on. There’s some who have used it to talk about the ways they believe they’ve been a good ally. Others’s have pointed people in the direction of black people, black voices, and black-run businesses. There are also some who are taken their efforts and learning offline. Everyone has justifications for their individual response (or lack of), some valid, some not so much.
Observing the online monopoly of race focused posts, and the conversations they spur as a result, has made a few themes jump out as needing further analysis. Today I want to focus primarily on accountability and our ability to accept our own fault and error. No one likes to be wrong of course, but an unwillingness to accept those moments can surely only enhance the initial ‘wrong-ness’, and I’ve seen this showcased numerous times over the last few days. Self awareness sometimes limited, with defences swiftly initialised.
This blog post might make for uncomfortable reading for many. I imagine some people’s initial reaction might be to internally guard their own integrity. ‘I don’t do this,’ and ‘This isn’t me”….but sometimes we don’t realise what our behaviour is, or at least how it could be perceived by others coming from a different situation or level of personal experience. I’m not here typing away to make people feel bad, but to merely put a magnifying glass on to the human condition, because I believe understanding people can be vital in finding successful solutions for problems. Good people can have toxic traits, bad habits and make glaring errors. Bad people can have some charming ways, intelligence and do nice things. No one is completely good, no one is completely bad – if we were so easily defined perhaps life and relationships wouldn’t be so complex! While I believe most people I know are good people, it would be remiss of me to not consider that some of our less favourable traits might come in to play when reacting to issues like this.
We are often told to celebrate our successes, small victories, positives attributes. Be proud. ‘Self Love is key’ we say with good intentions. No quibbles there, but as with anything, balance is key. It shouldn’t mean this is all we do. Self reflection should be seen as vital and celebrated as self love. Surely it leads to a better understanding of who we are and what we need to work on to become that person we will love even more. And when we do honest and thorough self reflection we will always uncover parts of our personality we know aren’t our best parts, things we can work on, behaviours that aren’t always helpful. But it stills feel like that we don’t often share these with our audiences online, even though as humans we all have them, albeit unique to us in verocity or combination.
I feel like more than ever content creators are eager to show that they are good, woke, relatable, honest. This can be a great thing if it inspires other to rethink or improve, and hopefully that is the motive on the most part. But sometimes I believe it’s partially due to the fact cancel culture became such more prominent in the internet community over the last few years. Is this why, for instance, so many of us talk about how many jobs we turn down on moral reasons and why (myself included). While it’s true that many of us do, and because the industry is so often given a hard time in the media we are very eager to share that we have principles to restore some balance. I wonder how much of our impulse to share this information on Twitter is to appear virtuous in a community so often lambasted. In essence to separate us from ‘those’ types of influencers, and in turn elevate our personal brand. I can’t help but think the internet has made so many of us thrive off adulation and praise that we have come to rely on that positive validation to feel happy/successful. But when most of our feedback is people we don’t know commenting online, it’s no wonder that’s where we hold so much of our esteem and worth. I reiterate that many of my loved ones are doing good because they are good people, but we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that some activism is performative (see this post Ava DuVernay posted about a women posing for a photo with a tool before heading off in her car).
No one wants to be seen as problematic either, not only because it might impact their ability to make money (if a brand is guided my morals, although many aren’t), but also because the industry has created an addiction…one to be inspiring to others. I can’t help but want explore that idea that perhaps some of us relish the response received when postings messages about female empowerment, politics, race, vegan life styles, sustainability, diversity and so on. I wonder how many content creators will look at themselves and uncomfortably interrogate their ego to see if they get some kind of soul massage out of people retweeting their well thought out, sensitive or inclusive tweets. What percentage of their actions are fuelled by the enjoyment the metaphorical applause they receive when they speak out as a beacon of goodness in the much maligned industry. I’m not saying that’s the only reason of course, I’d like to think most of us all are kind and inherently good people wanting the world to be a better place, but it’s worth consideration and self dissection. After-all there’s got to be a reason we retweet those nice messages people send us online – why don’t we read them and keep that nice feeling to ourselves?
I’m sure some/many have reacted as a result of shame/guilt over the last few days too. Posting all too swiftly to prove allegiance. Quite rightly people have used their platform to talk about colleagues and peers who have remained silent during this current outcry, not just in my world – Lewis Hamilton and Noel Clarke are two high profile people I’ve seen from other industries speaking out on my feed. Today (as I write this) many of us posted black boxes on our Instagram, only to clog up the #Blacklivesmatter which was undeniably unhelpful, despite good intentions. I had several many messages from people who said they posted in haste to show solidarity, respect and support for the cause, but hadn’t done their due diligence to ensure it was helpful or what the black community actually wanted. People want to be seen as not doing their bit, or course.
While I presume it’s a good thing that messages of support and awareness get posted, far and wide, and reaching as many audiences as possible, does the motivation behind posting impact it’s effectiveness and power, I wonder. We have to hope it was just fear of saying the wrong thing that was putting most people off originally or previously, and not because their feelings don’t align with the cause. But we don’t want it to be posting for postings sakes do we? A competition about who can portray themselves as the most informed non Black ally online. We want to make sure people are living or at least starting to live the things they are posting, right? How do we stop merely shame-posting and ensure there’s depth and action bolstering it ? Are these posts really a sign of people really holding themselves to account? How will we know the difference between jumping on the bandwagon and those who are actually taking the time to look at their own behaviour? Do we want to create a culture where people are constantly telling us what they’re doing to prove they are doing the work, or is that making it about them again and meaning less time dedicated to the productive stuff?
I’m not naive to think that accountability is an easy thing for all. When I think about scandals/fall outs in the internet world there often comes an apology video. But so often it have a very large capital BUT in it. ‘I’m sorry, but… seems to be a very common level of accountability. I’ve been guilty of it too and honestly might continue to be so (I still have work to do), because it makes you feel very exposed to accept 100% blame doesn’t it? But how far can we progress with this BUT mentality. Are we harsh enough critics of ourselves to know when it’s valid to use it or not? Do we have people in our lives telling us what we should own up to, and take ownership of ? (family, managers, agents, friends).
I want to talk all about a few incidences when I’ve been called out because I believe one of the most damaging parts of this conversation is not acknowledging that life is about learning and growth, and all our years on this earth provide a catalogue of mistakes. Some of this evolution involves retraining our minds and hearts, rebelling against everything our parents taught us on certain subjects. For others’s it will tripping up by saying or doing something in haste or in a moment of anger and passion and then feeling regret. For other’s it might a lack of education in terms of how your flippant actions/words can make others feel – I’m thinking about cultural appropriation and fat phobic comments.
It’s a process. We have and will continue to make mistakes, but it’s response to them that say’s who we are (in my opinion). The first one I can think of was when a Vegan brand approached me for a sponsored post on Instagram. It wasn’t a big fee by any means, but it’s still an amount I was potentially going to get over someone else. I asked myself how it aligned with my personal online brand, which is something I always do when I’m approached. I looked at whether it fitted in with my belief/morals and whether my audience would appreciate it. The fact it was Soy-free also appealed because my IBS tummy doesn’t get on well with soya. I saw the vegan label, and it’s soya free ingredient, but not everything else it that it might represent. It was a dish called Moin Moin created by the The Real African Food company. When I posted the image and caption it got a good response, but a couple Black followers of mine pointed out that it was a much loved Nigerian dish that you can buy in local African food stores. I see now that I was being told I should perhaps consider supporting those small black businesses instead. I also had a very lengthy voice not conversation with a blogger in my DM’S about whether I should have done the collaboration at all. Although I admit I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that you get whenever your integrity is challenged, I was very grateful for the education and conversation. It absolutely wasn’t up to her to expand my understanding, but I so appreciated the spotlight being put on my decision making process. I explained how I try and share any good vegan dishes I try, particularly for those that have health issues as someone who wants to keep the conversation about health at the forefront. But she pointed out that the brand should have at least asked some bloggers of African heritage to promote the brand too, those that understand it’s history and prominance in their culture. While you’d hope this would start at the point of brands/prs allocating the campaigns, I had to admit that I hadn’t checked before accepting who else would be promoting the product. Undeniably something I could and should do.
I’ve spoken out previously about how frustrating it can be that so many cruelty free/vegan brands don’t make a point of focusing or at least having a 50/50 approach to working with Vegan bloggers because we are having to turn down so much work (when non cruelty-free brands want to work with us, which we can’t and don’t want to accept). But what about Black people that are ignored or forgotten by so many brands every single day. Those that have incredible blogs, channels and Instagram pages, but are consistently left off the invite list for events and press trips. How would they feel about a white girl promoting a much loved Nigerion dish?
Not to become a BUT style apologiser, but to make this point. I am eating vegan, I try to avoid Soy and as a household we often eat dishes from other cultures (mainly Indian and Africa). But was that enough for me to take on the work? Is the main problem that I didn’t check to see who else was promoting the product? Would it be okay for me to promote if the campaign had featured a majority of black content creators? DISCUSS, please…really. We won’t get clarity on these intricacies of these types of scenarios unless we do.
Another time I didn’t use my voice perfectly was a time when I was in the Metro (print form) due to a drastic blue hair makeover. It was exciting for me as a small fish in this industry to be featured, but they’d used a quote that someone on Twitter was offended told me that were offended. The quote said that my fashion style was ‘schizophrenic’. It’s true that in the dictionary it says it can be defined by ‘an approach characterised by inconsistent or contradictory elements’ which is what was meant when it was used in this context. It’s a term I had often used in creative writing when I was younger, and it’s often used in fashion writing in relation to style. But that doesn’t change how others might perceive the usage. She thought I had mindlessly and carelessly used a mental health condition to talk about something superficial. My initial response was to be upset that this comment had taken the gloss of a special moment for me, but I quickly had to check myself. Part of me thought I’d like to keep this under wraps, as someone that talks about mental health online this wasn’t a particularly good look for me, but I decided to make a video about it instead which would hopefully encourage discussion. I’m sure if that were to happen now my would response would be different again, because hopefully there’s been more growth since then. Perhaps there would be less excuses and explaining to soothe my feelings. But there will be times when your side will be valid and it’s okay to explain, but I guess the main point is to not invalidate the other persons very real and visceral response.
I think this is another area that I haven’t seen discussed much in terms of the industry I reside. The parameters of what’s acceptable. When does work project become one you should accept without problem? I ask because I envisage so many brands scrambling to make their upcoming campaigns diverse now the focus is as strong at is, and thinking ‘We have two POC amongst thing group of ten’ so therefore we’ve done our job. Is that enough? Or is that tokenism and box ticking? Is it only diverse if there’s LGBTQIA, disabled and people with varying body shapes and sizes too? Is it important to have Black people specifically rather than only POC (yes, it is). I feel we need to have very frank discussions about this now…not sometime, maybe in the future, when things are quieter (to white folk at least) on this topic again. Do businesses actually need to structure themselves in a way that ensures they have voices that make it natural thing, not something that’s manufactured and contrived. Do we need laws to enforce this or would that go against everything that’s needed for this to work? We want people to naturally want this, for it to be genuine and believe this to be the way things should be, not only committing to it under duress.
It’s far from ideal but I imagine smaller influencers who get less opportunities landing in their inboxes, may at times feel more inclined to say yes to those campaign that feel a good fit but might be even better in the hands of a Black content creator (not condoning, but potentially a another uncomfortable truth ) but for the larger influencers who have the luxury of choice, is there any excuse? It’s not even just about the fact they have more choice too. Some names are so influential in the industry that brands genuinely need them on side, so they needn’t have the same fear speaking out that smaller influencers making their way in this ultra saturated industry might . Maybe they feel they have more to lose, but the reality is that creating a fairer industry/world will be better for everyone, We really meed those people to speak to those whose voices don’t pack as big a punch in this community. Sure that might feel like an incredible responsibility and weight to carry, but as these conversation becomes more prevalent , it’ll work towards becoming the norm way to navigate and negotiate.
Back to the concept of accountability, is this another muscle that needs exercising. And does that start at home? I can think about numerous niggles, fights and discussions I’ve had within relationships where I’ve been quick to deflect criticism and fault. Instead of accepting that my behaviour has played a part I have either become very emotional or said something to the note of, ‘Yeah, well you do this ‘. I am of course not referring to incidence where you/I are being gaslight, I don’t suggest we should except someone else fault as our own. These days I try hard to make a conscious effort to go through a mental checklist during heated discussions to check that I’m not batting away very fair points just because they make me feel bad. I try and see it as an opportunity to better myself and work on things that have much room for improvement. I was going to call them flaws, but so many are just parts of being human beings and it’s more about how much emphasis they’re given. Of course I understand it’s not always easy to analyse in the heat of the moment, in some instances it’s when the dust settles that you reflect and ask yourself those difficult important questions.
When things haven’t worked in regards to work I’m sure a coping mechanism we have all utilised at one point or another is to find fault elsewhere. External influences out of our control that might have impacted the success. We didn’t feel supported by the rest of the team. There was a tech fail or an alogirhtm didn’t work in our favour. People didn’t understand it. My equipment wasn’t good enough. Yada yada yada. You get the drill. And sometimes some of these points have been influential and are extremely valid points, but sometimes we didn’t do enough to minimise the opportunity for those things. And sometimes it has nothing to do with these things at all. Sometimes we haven’t been good enough….but often that feels like all too horrific a truth to bare.
Life is so very stressful for adults these days, no wonder we look for ways to get ourselves off the hook -why we search for things to make us feel less culpable. The to-do list feels consistently endless, so perhaps it’s inevitable that we will be tempted to find reasons to not have to feel the weight of even more draining emotions (of guilt, regret or responsibility), or to have more work we need to do. But the truth isn’t always convenient. The fact is we need to add to our to-do list in regards to being better allies. God knows there’s plenty far less important work than this on all of our lists. We always manage to find time to do those easy things don’t we? Like watch that Netflix series everyone’s talking about, or doing some browsing for things we don’t need on our favourite online stores.
Wow, this is longer than I intended. But there’s so much to explore from a psychological and human perspective. This isn’t a coherent and ordered essay, but as usual a collection of my overthinking queries and meandering wonderments. If nothing else I hope it encourages you to challenge yourself and really look at how you are responding, and see if there’s any gains to be made.
To finish….We will make errors in our attempts to become the ‘ideal’ ally. Sometimes we will make it too much about us. We will sometimes forget about the possible implications of our actions and the possible harm they could cause. We may use the wrong hashtag or outdated terminology. But if we get called out for any of these things we mustn’t use this as an excuse to give up or to be defensive. In fact we need to use that as motivation to get up the next day and do better. We mustn’t allow mistakes to nip away at your fighting spirit. Enough excuses. We can’t expect thanks and fireworks for actions/words we should have been delivering already. We must make sure the people we know that aren’t online are aware of the breadth of conversations we are having and share the information we have. And perhaps most importantly, in the words of Keith Harris, we must ‘make sure this isn’t another false dawn.’ Our approach can’t be a protest track we play every now and then, this has to be an inner metronome, ticking away with purpose every single day.
P.S I thought very hard about what kind of blog to post. I didn’t want to create a post with information more appropriately delivered by a Black Content Creator. If they can share resources and information at this time (and want to) they should get the shares and traffic. While I didn’t want this to be about me, by talking about my faults/improvements I hoped this could be a way to contribute via my platform without diluting their voices. If I haven’t hit the right tone, I apologise and please feel free to send me a message to discuss more. I will get things wrong, but I’m willing to learn.