Influencers Speaking out about Differential Treatment
We’ve started a new decade, but that doesn’t mean social conflict is left in the past. Within the last year, many influencers of color have come forward to speak on discrimination and differential treatment while on brand trips. While having influencers of diverse backgrounds representing brands is a step in the right direction, that needs to include treating everybody as equals the whole time, whether the cameras are on or not. Various influencers of color have come forward to say that that’s not what has been happening.
In May 2019, stories from several influencers of color involved in a Coachella trip for the fashion app Dote came to the public’s attention. As it was described, the house where all the influencers stayed isolated the four youtubers of color on one side of the house, while their white peers were on the other. Beds were clearly marked with names when they arrived for the brand trip titled ‘Dotechella’, and no changes were made to the set sleeping arrangements. According to Vereena Sayed, one of the influencers of color, the four of them all shared one bathroom and were sleeping on pull-out beds. There’s nothing wrong with that situation in and of itself, of course, but then they were seeing their white counterparts in master bedrooms with king-sized beds. Even the most basic of things, in this case their sleeping arrangements, set them apart from the rest of the girls on the trip and made them feel like they were somehow less than. Daniella Perkins, one of the affected influencers on the trip, said she and other influencers of color were also excluded from various activities and photo opportunities.
Kianna Naomi was another youtuber of color who spoke up about a trip to Fiji she took with the same brand that the previous conflict involved, Dote. While the point of the trip was for influencers to get pictures that brought more attention to the brand that sent them, her and fellow influencer Lisette, known as Luhhsetty, did not feel that they were there for the right reasons. While on the trip, they recorded a video to speak up on the issues they faced, which was later included by Kianna Naomi in her youtube video to tell her story. There were three girls of color on the trip, and the photographers never even learned their names, and only photographed them when they wanted a shot of “the black girls dancing”. Other than that, they felt utterly excluded and unwanted on the trip. “I don’t want to support photographers that refer to us as black girls instead of getting to know our names,” Lisette said in the video taken during the Fiji trip. The photographers were not the only people on the trip to cause the girls to feel isolated; they also spoke of the demeanor of the other influencers, and how they made no effort whatsoever to be inclusive.Naomi even attempted to contact the company to address the trip and its failings, but they took her off their mailing list. “If you don’t like posting girls of color on your page, if you don’t like photographing girls of color, I don’t support you as an artist and I don’t support you as a photographer because you don’t support me and people that look like me,” Naomi said when she told her story on youtube.
Many influencers of color are still afraid to tell their stories. After Lisette finally shared hers in October of 2019, she explained what had held her back for so long. “I was nervous this video could potentially be read the wrong way...coming across ungrateful or spoiled,” she said. Of course, she’s fully aware of the opportunities she’s been given, including traveling and being a role model for young girls, and didn’t want to sound like she was complaining about it. Despite the opportunities she had, the problem was that she received worse treatment than other influencers in the same position, simply because of the color of her skin. Kianna Naomi shared the same point of view in her video, and discussed the responsibility she felt she had along with her influence. “By being silent, I’m doing a disservice to the thousands of black girls who watch me and look up to me, and look up to this brand that I was mistreated by,” she said.
It’s a scary thing to come forward with personal stories of discrimination, but now that some of these stories are more out in the open, it’s our job to listen. “Diversity is very important, and with today’s society, we need to have equality along with passionate, woke people,” Eden Gbedey (12) started. “Regardless of the environment and rules put in place, everyone should be treated equally no matter the color of their skin,” she concluded. This is a discussion of basic human rights, and we can all take a stand and support those who have been and continue to be mistreated.