After enjoying a fairly social media free start to the year throughout most of January, I hopped on to Instagram stories on Monday to see concerns from a number of influencers who pointed out the lack of representation of minority women on the Instagram page of a certain brand, concerns which at the time, were going unheard.
Before I begin to dissect this, it’s important to note that I wont be naming any businesses in particular, as I believe this discussion is greater than any single brand.
A lack of representation of minorities is not new, nor is the fight to be represented. Minorities have been poorly represented in film, t.v. and across the board on all mainstream media, and today social media pages mirror this. This lack of representation in marketing often comes from the idea that minorities do not fit the wider narrative of brands. To put it simply, if we were to split people that engage with brands on Instagram into two groups, we would end up with the consumers and the creators (or influencers). Where most minorities are seen as consumers, many brands fail to recognise them as creators.
So, why do brands choose not to recognise a vast and growing population as creators?
As it stands, I believe many businesses think that they are doing enough by ticking off the small checklist of ‘inclusivity’ they have at hand and refuse to join in further discussions. And others? well, it seems they’ve dug out a comfortable loop hole; the loop hole being this sort of awkward in-between stage that we’ve reached where brands do partner with minority women and collaborate with them on their (the creators) platforms, but fail to feature women that ‘deviate’ from the average white, slim and youthful woman.
Thus, it often becomes a matter of, – ‘we would love you to represent us to your followers, we would very much be open to accepting the financial gain that your following can provide us, HOWEVER we will not be representing you, or people who look like you on any of our major ‘front facing’ platforms in fear of ‘disrupting’ the consumers who are of a greater value to us because of their ‘whiteness’.
If you’ve reached this point of the article, you might have noticed the inverted commas placed around words like ‘deviate’ and ‘disrupt’, and ‘whiteness’. The reasoning behind this is, that essentially, the way I see it, a lack of representation boils down to a fear of three things; deviating from the old, disrupting the comfort levels of mainstream marketing, and being seen as too diverse to cater for white women.
I know that if you’re reading this as a white woman , the final point may be hard to believe. Because to you, there is enough space at the table for all of us, cis and transgendered, and whether the model/creator you see is a white black or brown woman does not matter to you, and it definitely does not offend you. However, supremacy is still very much alive, and social media is not immune to it, in fact, it thrives on pages where people have the freedom to express their views virtually without any ‘real’ consequences.
The retaliation in the comments section of this particular brand once they did feature a woman of another ethnicity, only proves my point further. I will not be focusing on the very obviously racist comments referring to the skin colour of the model as ‘ugly’, because the motives of such comments are, well… obvious. But the comments that really do bring my point home were the passive kind that I, as a young brown woman on the internet, come across on a regular basis.
These were the kind of comments that dismissed the real concerns presented by Instagram creators, and labelled them as aggressive, suggesting that ‘aggression’ would never bring social change. And that, well that in itself is far more dangerous than a slur/insult could ever be. Because, when the concerns of marginalised groups are labelled ‘aggressive’ and ‘forceful’ by a large number of white individuals, it does nothing but prompt businesses to view the voices of minorities as problematic.
It is this kind of passive retaliation that brandishes any positive change as a brand ‘giving in’ to the pressure of ‘angry’ minorities which pushes businesses to continue to under-represent minorities. Therefore resulting in a continued cycle of maladaptive traits, i.e. marketing that appeases to the ‘majority’.
This brings me to my final point, what about brands and business owners who DO want to be a part of greater discussions? Well my answer to that is, listen. There are many wonderful creatives who put their points across and continue the fight for more equal representation on channels such as Instagram, creatives like Rida (@beforeandagain_) who ask brands to reevaluate and question how inclusive they really are. Listen to the concerns of people who reach out to you.
Like many discussions of cultural diversity, race and gender today, it is usually a matter of unlearning the regressive habits, and dare I say it, ideologies that are continually manifesting themselves in increasingly culturally diverse spaces.
Today, where there is a lack of representation, their is also the voices of those who are asking you to represent them. When these concerns and questions are coming directly to you, there is little space for excuses.
If you read until the end, thank you!