By Kyra Meyer
In recent events, it has become very clear that our society is easily divided by racism, especially against black people. There are victims, allies, racists and the people who think it’s best not to “get too political” and to stay neutral, keeping their Instagram page light and pretty. The silence of some big influencers is deafening to me.
The reason as to why it is important to speak up as an influencer, now more than ever, is because social media is where we can be heard and where we can fight for what is right. So many people rely on Instagram and Twitter to get information about the protests, police activity and ways to join the Black Lives Matter movement. If more influencers talk about it, more people will be ready to educate themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading books or watching documentaries about the topic; all influencers have to do is promote it.
All the influencers who I saw speaking up, doesn’t matter what skin color, were promoting black owned fashion and beauty brands like FUBU and Savage X Fenty. This is a way for them to promote black people, stand with black people and still put out their usual content. They acknowledged that a lot of the fashion trends many people profit from originated in the black community, namely gold hoops, chunky jewelry, nail art and streetwear. We see these trends everywhere we go, not only on social media but also in movies and in real life. Moreover, influencers who say they don’t want to “get political” are most likely hypocritical because most of them have talked about animal rights or veganism at one point, which are considered political topics too. But as soon as it’s about black lives they have stayed quiet.
Since I’m black and I follow a lot of people on Instagram who look like me and have gone through the same things, my Instagram feed is filled with posts about racial injustice and people speaking up about it. However, I worry that some people, who aren’t black or brown, don’t follow these people and think it’s okay to not care about racial issues and engage with them, because the influencers they follow stay quiet. I don’t want to say that everyone who isn’t black doesn’t talk about racial issues, by now most people do. However, there are some people who have a lot of influence, but still decide to stay quiet and that’s the issue. An influencer who admits to not knowing enough about the topic to speak up should find out more; the problem of not speaking up concerns everyone, influencers of all colors and backgrounds.
Recently, I talked to one of my black friends who lives in the US and she said that “nothing changes until you make people uncomfortable” and I agree. I know that it might take the guts for someone to talk about uncomfortable topics. However, staying out of politics is a privilege, because so many of us can’t stay out of it simply because of our skin color. People who don’t speak up are upholding the oppressive norms and taking up space that is needed to fight for collective liberation; not speaking up is like saying “let’s pretend nothing is happening; your pain doesn’t matter to us“. Making people “feel comfortable and keeping the peace” is only for their own convenience, so they don’t have to think about the horrible things that happen in the world since they aren’t happening to them directly. However, they should affect them emotionally just as much they affect me, as a black woman, because black people are still people.
I follow a Chinese girl living in America on Instagram who talked about how she lost many followers ever since she started posting about the systemic racism against black and brown people and white privilege. She said that she isn’t primarily sad about the dropping numbers in her account, but more about the fact that so many people are not ready to step into the conversation about racism and their own privilege. This made me realize that it doesn’t matter whether influencers lose followers, deals with brands or sponsorships, because what does it matter if innocent people’s lives are on the line? If it had only been black people talking about what happened to George Floyd, his murderer wouldn’t have been charged at all even though it was filmed. This shows that all the influencers, celebrities, brands, and protestants who stood up, did make a difference.
Furthermore, racism and racial injustice aren’t just hot-button issues to care about this week or next month. The killings of unarmed black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery aren’t new. The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013, so everyone has had at least seven years to get educated, to stand up, to show me and everyone else that black lives matter to them. Speaking up is about showing solidarity to the people suffering at the hands of police brutality and staying quiet only fuels this suffering.
When I hear the term “influencer”, I think of a person who wants to have a positive impact on someone’s life, who wants to be someone that people, no matter what age, can look up to. There is nothing “too political” or “too sensitive” about saying that black lives matter, because black lives are human lives. 2020 is a year that had to happen for people to finally wake up and find their voices. Everyone who is silent right now is part of the problem.