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These Influencers Are Challenging One Of The Largest Ambassador Marketing Companies To Show Receipts

Story of a black creative's life, right?

Business

When I think of an influencer, I think of hard-working individuals who produces fresh content tailor-made for their following. Everyone is an influencer in their own right so there are different types of influencersMega, Macro, Micro, and Nano. Within these varying categories, there is a myriad of opportunities for influencers to partner with brands of all kinds. But, let's be honest, the influencer space is predominantly white. This means that influencers of color have to work twice as hard for the same opportunities as white influencers. Imagine being an influencer of color and learning that your work is valued less than that of your white counterparts. Story of a black creative's life, right?


The 2020 revolution is forcing the world to stop and listen to black folks. Thanks to a pandemic within a pandemic, society is finally hearing the cries of black people. Granted, we have been saying "per my last email" to injustice for decades but we will take what we can get at this point. Unfortunately, injustices happen to us in all spaces. For that reason, heavyweight influencers like Aicha Balde and Marche Robinson created the #OpenFohr campaign.

In case you don't know about Fohr, let me learn you something. Fohr is a global influencer marketing platform for ambassadors and brands. The goal of the platform is to provide influencers with tools that help them create a cutting edge marketing strategy, leading them to partnerships and campaigns. Fohr proudly states, "We support influencers. We are nothing without our influencer community, and we act accordingly." And like many other companies, Fohr jumped on the trend to pause advertisements and post anti-racism resources amidst the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. The gag is, they don't walk it like they talk it. For years, Black and Brown influencers have made it their business to share their grievances with being underpaid and there has not been any change.

That's where Aicha and Marche come in. We had the chance to dig deeper into this movement and what it means to these amazing women.

xoNecole: Tell us about yourself and how you became an influencer.

Aicha Balde: My name is Aissatou Balde but only my dad calls me Aissatou, everyone else knows me as Aicha. I am a West African-born full-time working mom and a Black content creator (@talesandturbans). My journey as a content creator started as an outlet to empower African [and] Muslim girls like me to do things that seemed impossible, such as juggling school, family, and work. Today, I pride myself in creating a space for open and difficult conversations about motherhood, identity, and life, along with the fun stuff like fashion, skincare, and food.

Marche Robinson: I'm Marche Robinson and I am an attorney and blogger (@marcherobinson) living in Raleigh, NC. I've been blogging since 2012. I graduated law school in 2010 and the market was very bad. There were not a lot of legal jobs. I took a contract role in Charlotte and at the time I had an inconsistent working schedule and needed something creative to fill the time. I started reading blogs and my friends and family told me I should start one. So, in August of 2012, I launched my blog and initially just shared fashion, beauty and décor images I found online.

​Why did you start the OpenFohr movement?

Aicha & Marche: A group of eight Black content creators - Aissata Diallo, Denisse Myrick, Valerie Eguavoen, Yvette Corinne, Marche' Robinson, Nasteha Yusuf, and Nuni Yusuf, and I started #OpenFohr as a next step in a series of interventions against racism at Fohr. Over the past two years, we have complained, explained, consulted, and recommended solutions to Fohr, but our voices have been silenced with polished campaigns that convince the mainstream media that Fohr is a changemaker in the content creation space.

Agencies like Fohr have capitalized on the growing call for "diversity and inclusion" in the influencer industry without really making any changes to their exploitative and discriminatory practices. We created the OpenFohr campaign because we cannot allow people to keep exploiting the anti-racist narrative for profits. Over the past two weeks, as the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage in the public discourse, Fohr paused its advertising, posted protest resources, and even provided anti-racism resources on Instagram. Yet, many of the Black content creators who have worked with them are discriminated against and underpaid.

We also want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"We want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry."

​What does it mean to be a Black influencer?

Aicha: To be a Black influencer means showing up in spaces where you may not be wanted and still doing it for girls who look like you. I learned the hard way that brands tend to gravitate more towards bloggers that fit the standard of beauty. For a long time, I thought, "Blogging isn't for me because I don't look 'the part'." Even photographers have blatantly told me that they don't know how to edit my skin tone, completely unwilling to learn and unable to even recommend an alternative contact. The biggest challenge of being so diverse in this business is finding people who can understand you and won't crush your confidence. I blog to remind myself and others that we are good enough; our diversity is an asset, not a drawback.

Marche: When I first started out, being a Black influencer meant filling a void. Fashion magazines and sites rarely shared Black women. They still have a very long way to go so I still feel this way. I feel like influencing is a way to share fashion, beauty, etc with women who can relate to me. It's not easy for Black women to open a magazine and see a woman like them sharing their story or their favorite products. If it were not for Black influencers, there would not be as much representation.

​When you learned of the influencer pay gap, how did you feel?

Aicha: These issues are not new. Black bloggers have been discussing our unfair treatment in the Influential Marketing world for years, but to no avail. What finally broke the camel's back was the fact that Fohr had the audacity to use the #BlackLivesMatter issue to their advantage despite their repertoire of exploiting us. When I say us, I don't just mean Black content creators. This includes their Black employees who cannot speak out about their treatment for fear of being ostracized.

Marche: Honestly, I was not surprised. Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't."

​What are your demands of Fohr?

Aicha & Marche: Fohr must stop treating this movement as a PR nightmare to hide from and instead, face it as the call to accountability of their actions and inactions over the years. You cannot have an entitled and unaware homogenous-white staff leading an organization and expect to get it right. You will always miss the mark because there's no one to say otherwise. Lack of diversity is how you end up taking advantage of Black creators and complain when you get called out. Fohr needs an independent outside party to look at their structure and provide constructive criticism. Most importantly, Fohr needs an HR department. You cannot fairly police yourself. We know that, so let's change that.

Why do you think it's important for Fohr to show their authentic commitment to Black influencers?

Aicha: I personally don't think Fohr is capable of being authentic to their Black influencers. This was never something that was on their agenda. As I said, this conversation has been going on for over two years but nothing has changed. The creation of The Fohr Freshman Class was a result of Fohr getting called out for lack of diversity, and yet they still failed us. It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter.

Marche: Fohr should show authentic commitment because they have consistently held themselves out to be supportive of diversity and leader in the influencer marketing industry. How can you hold yourself out to be so groundbreaking when you lack diversity within your organizing and with the bloggers you hire for campaigns? I think there is this tendency for people to say, "Oh that's just the industry," but that doesn't make it right. People should be paid adequately for the service they provide.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter."

What advice do you have for other influencers struggling to create?

Aicha: Do things that come naturally to you and that revolve around your day-to-day life. Reach out to another sister to have a creativity party and get ideas flowing. Most of my Insta family will tell you that my DMs are always open, whether it's for help, a listening ear, or to celebrate each other: I'm here for you, sis.

Marche: So many influencers have had to pivot during quarantine and now with the current movements. I think that you have to share what you are passionate about. When you do what you love it comes naturally. I actually started a TikTok account and it's been fun to create content in a new way and it has resonated a lot with my social media followers. I think this is a great time to step back and think of a new way to create and share what you love.

To keep up with the #OpenFohr movement, follow them on Instagram @openfohr. And follow Marche and Aicha on Instagram @talesandturbans and @marcherobinson.

Feature Image Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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