Social media faced a reckoning during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. People of all backgrounds used their platforms — regardless of size — to share information about combatting racial injustices and elevate Black content creators's voices. But as white allies refocused their posts, so did the larger emphasis on BLM within certain online communities, leaving the very victims of racism to continue doing the leg work of combatting it.
“There was a huge reckoning amongst white people that they weren't following any Black people,” Danielle Prescod, author of the upcoming book Token Black Girl and co-founder of 2BG Consulting, tells Yahoo Life. “I don't think it had anything to do with the content. I think it's that people were like, ‘Oh, I'm finally listening now.’”
Prescod, who works in fashion and media, explains that racism within those industries have always been glaring to her and has been an outspoken advocate throughout her career. After the killing of George Floyd and the national response to it, however, she spoke to the need for accountability when it comes to brands committing to being anti-racist, posting a video of her thoughts that garnered over 2.5 million views.
“Show me you care instead of telling me. I am hoarse from screaming. We have been telling you guys this for years. YEARS,” she wrote in the video’s caption. “I’m glad you decided to wake up but now get out of bed and do something.”
With the viral fame came unprecedented exposure and new followers. However, Prescod explains that with the spotlight on Black creators also came the expectation that they would exclusively present informational content about racism and how to be anti-racist.
“That's the problem with people who come to you for a viral video. They didn't have any context for knowing who I am and what I'm about. So all of a sudden now I’m just horseback riding and they're like, ‘I’m pissed off. Why is this girl not giving us a rundown of the insurrection?’” she explains. “[These topics] are important to me because I am a Black woman living in America. But this is also my personal page where I live my life and that's what I've always done. So that's what I’m going to keep doing. But people who have come to you for a specific reason, they aren't too happy with that.”
Prescod’s experience isn’t unique. Bria Jones, a 27-year-old lifestyle influencer who has gained over 40,000 followers since speaking out about allyship and important issues as a young Black woman, says that the attention that she received in response to the Black Lives Matter movement ended up pushing her to her limits.
“I wasn't necessarily prepared for the mental impact of going through 2020 and getting through 2020, and also being super vulnerable,” Jones tells Yahoo Life. “To be perfectly honest, I'm kind of paying for that right now.”
The Texas native previously said that social media’s response to racial injustice was “pivotal” for her as it not only pushed her to share more authentically on her platform but also showed that people were listening through an increase in engagement and followers. In hindsight, catering to that new audience took a toll on Jones that she wasn’t expecting.
“Black creators definitely feel an obligation to continue this conversation and continue to speak up when they feel it's necessary. Although it's definitely not something that they need to be doing, I think it's an obligation that we all feel at the end of the day because it directly affects us,” she explains. “But at the same time, what I have learned and what I'm healing from is that kind of trauma of resurfacing my own personal stories. And then also having the internet attack me for them and tell me that I'm fabricating these stories and fabricating my truth.”
What frustrated her most was watching other influencers with even bigger platforms sitting idly by while Black content creators took on the brunt of the work. This inspired her to launch a podcast called The People We Follow where Jones dives into the lives of influencers and the power that they're given by followers.
"I think accountability really has to be at the foundation of not just what influencers are doing, but also the audience and the consumers. If they really want to be deemed allies and progressive people, this is more than just a post. This is reflected in your actions on a regular basis, by the brands you shop and the people you engage with," Jones says. "If you don't like what a person stands for, then don't give them the platform."
And while both Jones and Prescod — who started a consulting agency with fellow Black content creator Chrissy Rutherfood — felt it was natural to make business decisions out their own experiences with accountability and anti-racism, Kéla Walker says that these efforts by Black influencers further demonstrate the pressure placed on them to be an authority of race going forward.
"There are definitely way more platforms and accounts that are making sure brands are being held accountable and are showing up and delivering on what they said and promised, which is good to see," the lifestyle influencer with over 99,000 followers tells Yahoo Life. "But more often than not, it feels like it's still coming from us. From Black women, from Black creators, from Black influencers, Black directors."
The challenge that remains now, she explains, is making sure that the new opportunities that people have found to discuss social justice and race on social media are "normalized" and that Black content creators can show up as they are to an audience who will continually support them without expectation.
Ultimately, Walker shares that showing up authentically as a Black woman on the internet is a part of the work.
"I'm always trying to exemplify, and if you will, aspire to inspire others to live their best life without limits, without limitations and to just live a life of abundance," she says. "I'm not always feeling like I need to get on my soapbox because my actions speak louder than my words. Here I am existing showing that that in and of itself is a resistance to where they want us to be and how they want to deem us."
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