Black creators have long used platforms like YouTube and Instagram to speak about inequality and inclusivity — all the while building a brand out of being outspoken and engaging. But now, many are saying, it’s the audience’s turn to step up.
Nationwide Black Lives Matter protests have held up a mirror to not only police brutality and systemic racism, but also have highlighted the industries affected by racism, including the influencer industry.
The uproar of social activism found a home on social media, where users were encouraged to follow and support more Black creators and businesses. Hitting the “subscribe” or “follow” button was one simple, quick act — like the rise of swipe-up email campaigns — that users could do to show their support for Black creators.
But one-off support may not be enough, Black beauty influencers told Digital Trends.
“I think a lot of people were woken up to the fact that this was something that was happening in the world,” said YouTube star Nyma Tang. “I think the only thing I would like to see is that same support keeping up yearlong, and not just when something this terrible happens to wake you up.”
‘I’m not sure if people will stick around.’
Since the very inception of her YouTube channel nearly one decade ago, Tang — who has nearly 1.5 million followers — has made it her mission to advocate for darker shades across makeup and beauty brands — and call companies out when they fail.
“Back when I started my channel, everything I did had such a huge shock factor to it,” said Tang. “People were so surprised, like, ‘wow, deeper skin tones are being underserviced!’ But now, my audience isn’t surprised when products come out. They are like, ‘OK, you guys tried it, it failed, and now we are going to hold your feet to the fire.’”
Tang has cultivated a loyal following of viewers for her series “The Darkest Shade” where she tries the darkest foundations that brands offer and puts them to the test while capturing her raw, unfiltered reaction on camera. The series has seen a lot of success, largely because many Black women and women of color can relate to not finding a matching shade when buzzy brands launch new makeup products, which creates a feeling of being ignored that Tang articulates in each of her videos.
“It’s funny, because a lot of [my passion] came from just me knowing that I’m going to live in this skin for the rest of my life, and loving it and accepting it,” she said.
For Darcei Giles (@MissDarcei), the way she approaches creating content these days hasn’t necessarily changed. Like Tang, Giles’ YouTube channel focuses on beauty and frequently re-creates makeup tutorials by white celebrities, like Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid, to see if they are “Black girl friendly” — spoiler alert, many of them aren’t.
“Honestly, it doesn’t feel different in terms of activism or change, because I’ve just been doing that for a while now,” Giles said in an interview with Digital Trends.
But she has noticed her follower count has grown since the protests began.
“When this all started, I know a lot of people started asking to recommend Black creators, and I’ve noticed that my follower count will go up,” said Giles. “The only thing about that is, I’m not sure if people will stick around.”
A bigger follower count and added engagement on videos are nice perks for now; however, Tang and Giles wonder how this attention and awareness can be sustained over the long term in order to see the changes they’ve been pushing for over a decade — not only as members of YouTube’s beauty community, but for Black creators everywhere.
“I think at this point, it’s really going to be up to the people that want to also see change, and it’s going to be up to them to also be right there with us, because it’s never going to stop for us,” said Tang. “In this day and age, the first and quickest way to create change is with your dollars.”
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Pretty much! Today, Tomorrow forever. This isn’t a moment for black people, it’s our life. This fight continues. To our allies, continue to educate yourself and learn how you can help us make actual change. #blacklivesmatter IF YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN BLACKOUT TUESDAY. 1. Do not use the black lives matter hashtag. The black squares are suppressing vital information. 2. If you have already posted, it’s not enough to just remove the hashtag you have to completely delete and repost without the BLM hashtag.
Can social activism be sustained?
It’s not just audiences who need to continue supporting Black creators, both Tang and Giles said. Sponsorships are a great way for beauty companies to prove that their support for Black customers and creators is genuine.
According to Jade Sherman, a partner at A3 Artists Agency, who represents Tang and other digital creators, brands have been quick to “align themselves with content creators that have a strong point of view.”
“Those creators carry more weight and influence with their audience, and brands have been able to tap into those creators to share their message as well,” said Sherman in a statement to Digital Trends. “Nyma has a clear point of view and pushes brands to be more inclusive, and holds them accountable if they fall short.”
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Attended a Black Lives Matter protest in my hometown today. So moving to see people of all walks of life coming together to support us. Cars honked in support, people banged pots and pans from their apartment windows. And we will keep going until they hear us. No Justice No Peace.
Although many Black creators are just being discovered by wider audiences right now, that doesn’t mean engagement on their channels and profiles will drop even if their follower account does, Sherman said. Engagement is what drives brands to put advertising dollars behind influencers, not numbers, she added.
Not only are brands and advertisers paying more attention to Black creators right now, but some companies have also expressed interested in working with influencers to “create internal councils where they can hear directly from the creators on where they are missing the mark,” said Sherman.
“Though the influencer may only be one person, they stand for their millions of followers,” she said. “That voice is extremely important for brands to listen to and build upon to create long-lasting change.”
At the end of the day, Giles said change begins with taking action and practice — and not just paying attention when something goes viral.
“I think it’s just about being mindful in order to change, because it’s really just a habit that people have, and in order to change a habit, you really have to be on yourself,” said Giles. “I don’t think everyone’s going to be able to sustain that, but I think some people will.”
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