Dear White Allies: It’s Time to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

You know, I routinely scoff at “Dear White People” essays. I’ve always been of the mindset that these folks are fully aware of what’s what and that the onus is not on me, a black woman, to tell them how they should comport themselves. 

However, a recent encounter with a would-be “ally” has even opened my eyes to the many ways in which white people still don’t get it. So let me make this plain: 2020 is the year of reparations. We want is owed to us. We want what we deserve. Cut. The. Crap.

So here’s what happened:

As you know I’m an “influencer.” I hate that word, but it is what it is.  I’ve even won the prestigious honor of being named Boston Magazine’s Style Influencer of the year (both in 2019 and 2020).  In short, this is very much a business for me. Everything I do is done professionally. Because of the hard work I’ve poured into my craft for the last 7 years, I now get paid to “influence.” I’ll admit, the world of influencing is a strange one because it’s unregulated and many people do it as a hobby. However, anyone who is even remotely familiar with this industry knows when the influencer is doing it for kicks vs. operating as a business. Follower count is a pretty good indicator followed by the quality of the work produced. 

Small businesses usually don’t have the budget to work with influencers so sometimes an influencer and the business work out a deal that is mutually beneficial. In other words, the product or services being offered by the business is valuable enough to the influencer to “influence” for the product or service alone. 

This is fair.  Two small businesses helping each other out is fair.

What is not fair is when a business has the means to pay but tries to circumvent paying by offering the influencer (me), crumbs. This is particularly offensive given the current racial climate and the supposed awareness that black people (like me), have always (for generations) operated at a financial deficit. We have not been treated fairly. We have NEVER been paid fairly. Therefore, if you purport to be an ally of black people with an understanding of our plight, it’s time that you use your resources, i.e money, to help fix the problem we now find ourselves in. 40 acres and a mule, people. 40 acres and a mule.

After George Floyd’s murder, we began to see more White people taking to the internet to promote and shop from Black-owned businesses.  It seems that folks were finally beginning to understand that much of the suffering experienced by the black community is tied to policies that have consistently placed us on the bottom rung. 

Earlier this week I was approached by a local business to be a model. They wanted me to style myself, do my own hair and makeup, and model 3-4 outfits (my own clothes) to help them sell their luxury bags. We’re talking bags that sell at $5000 US dollars a pop. The payment offered: the pictures taken from the shoot. Make no mistake, the business reached out for one reason and one reason only: I’m a local black style influencer. And due to their lack of black representation in their marketing efforts, they wanted to include me, but not pay me. Me, a professional influencer with two children to boot. How is this allyship?

It gets worse

When I made it clear that as a business owner, I could not devote my time to modeling without the compensation they did indeed ask for my fee. However, before I could even give my fee, the brand representative began to hem and haw about not having a budget, and after a little back and forth about that I simply declined to move forward. I really don’t have time to worry about someone else’s money problems. At first, I didn’t give it much thought. This sort of foolery is common in this industry and influencers of all races are faced with it.

But then I got angry. Here you are, a business making BANK selling luxury goods, yet you’ve assigned no value to a black woman’s labor? None? From an ally? It boggles the mind. 

It gets even worse

So I went on my Instagram stories and vented about this experience. Never mentioning the brand by name or tagging them. Who they are isn’t important. I did, however, call the brand’s actions “Racist AF.” Because they are. Who, in 2020, approaches a black businesswoman and asks her to labor for free? What kind of allyship is this? Who seeks out a member of a disenfranchised group, attempting to use this person’s likeness to make money, yet doesn’t feel this person is deserving of being approached respectfully and paid for her work?

What happened next still blows my mind

The brand direct messaged me issuing all kinds of explanations, and apologies,  and offered $1000 for the modeling gig. I thanked them for hearing me and went on with my business. Of course, the bell had been rung and I’m not in the business of assuaging anyone’s guilt, so I didn’t take them up on the offer. I was, however, ready to move on.  I even went on my stories and explained to my followers that the brand had issued a mea culpa and attempted to make it right. 

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After sending the above message, I then received a direct message from a “third party” who claimed to be both a friend of the brand owner and the photographer who would have been taking the pictures. This person was strangely and aggressively defensive and told me that I had been wrong to categorize this business’s practices as racist. 

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Let that sink in. A white woman went out of her way to tell a black woman that she misunderstood and miscategorized a racist experience. Because, you know, we darkies can’t possibly understand racism when we see it. We need a white woman to tell us what’s what. What makes matters worse is that this third party was, in fact, no third party. This photographer actually runs her own Boston-based influencer marketing agency and is, in fact, the person who had been messaging me from the brand’s account. To clarify, the brand-owner doesn’t manage her influencer relations, she hired the photographer to do it. So the photographer was actually the person who had been messaging me as the brand. So while “the brand” apologized and made it seem that we were all squared away, she then messaged me from her own personal account and pretended to be a concerned friend. When I called her on it, she denied it, saying instead that she simply has access to the account and had been reading the messages exchanged. So you see “the hunch” she mentions in her previous messages is a load of bull. The woman really believed I was stupid enough to not know she had direct knowledge of the conversation. I had been talking to one person the entire time. The insult to my intelligence is perhaps the most infuriating.

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I was and still am aghast.  

I concluded the conversation with this:

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White folks and white business owners this is not allyship. The aggressive nature in which this woman treated me and then continued to treat me despite being told how she was treating me speaks volumes about her purported allyship. Black people, I need you to witness this and know what it is when you see it. We have built this nation. We have endured slavery, Jim crow laws, de jure, and de facto segregation. The days of free labor are over. I don’t care what industry you are in. If you are an expert at your craft and someone wants to work with you, you need to be paid for your labor. White allies? Time to pay up!

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