The daily routine of almost every young person in the developed world revolves, in one way or another, around social media. Social media has a gigantic influence over billions of lives, making the profession of the “influencer” a much-coveted role. In recent weeks, social media has become a vehicle for the advocacy for racial equality, but just how well have BIPOC influencers been treated on these sites behind the scenes?
Influencer couple Eulanda and Omo run a travel and lifestyle blog (instagram: @dipyourtoesin) and spoke to the BBC’s The Next Episode about an evident racial pay gap. Eulanda spoke of a brand which repeatedly approached her for a collaboration and yet “never had the budget” to pay her for her efforts. She then enquired with friends who had worked with the brand previously: “these [influencers] all happened to be white and they all said ‘Oh no, we got paid’. The brand continued to reach out to us. Each time they never had the budget and each time I checked, they always had the budget for someone else. Maybe they just didn’t have the budget for people who looked like us”.
In light of the murder of George Floyd and the conversations about racism it sparked, many Black influencers have seen large growth in their followings. Interior Designer Carmeon Hamilton (instagram: @carmeon.hamilton) described this surge, in an article for Buzzfeed News, as “incredibly disheartening”, adding that it felt like “a white person tokenized you and handed you these new people, it was almost like a handout – but one that you feel like you deserved the whole time”.
Last year Lilly Singh, a Canadian social media influencer of South Asian descent, made headlines when she became the first influencer from the digital space to become a late-night talk show host in America. It also made her the first woman of colour to be given a late-night show, within which she is vocal about the challenges that come from being a minority, as well as working to illuminate the reality of white privilege. Although the show has recently been renewed for a second season, its journey has not been without some, rather ironic, online backlash. Flare magazine even went as far as to accuse Singh herself of cultural appropriation.
It appears that, although the world of social media is amongst the most modern and fast-adapting industries, there is still much work to be done, at every level, in order for the realisation of true racial equality.