The Token

by - 8/30/2019

It's come to my attention that a lot of people and brands, who claim to be advocates for diversity and inclusivity are really just concerned with themselves and checking tick boxes.

It's no surprise to me when I get offered a casting job or a campaign in which I am the only POC or curvier blogger. As much as I love getting such opportunities, it strikes me as odd when brands ask me to work for them and I don't see myself represented within their product line(s) or marketing. Thus, leading me to believe that they've probably googled "black or brown UK blogger" or something along those lines. I often get emails from brands who have not even researched my blog/appearance and pitch me to work for their fake tan brand or promote their makeup when they cater for white skin and I am unable to actually use any of it.

I feel like the token for diversity and it's really fucking frustrating.

I was sent a campaign brief recently from a bath/shower product company in which it said: "we prefer flat-lay images that are light and bright, and no nudity; if showing skin product looks best on neutral skin tones". Can you even believe it? I can.

I was asked to work with a plus-size brand recently (which baffles me because I never really shop in plus-size shops, which is why I declined) and when I asked who else was on the campaign, everyone was western white. You're telling me that within a group of 40-50 bloggers/influencers, you could only think to ask one POC? I'm not buying it. This is what I mean by being a token; clearly, they looked at their line up and thought "wow we need someone who isn't white" and spared one spot.

Don't even get me started on makeup brands. I know with all of my heart that brands understand the complexity of foundation shades and how each colour needs two-three different undertones. I know this because they have 30 white person shades and 10 dark shades. Dark skin in itself is richer and more complex to match, so you'd think that there would be more of shade range, yes? No. I'm fed up of seeing the old marketing ploy of "we have 40 shades, we're so diverse" when in fact they have 30 shades for white people and a handful of token dark shades just so they can check the box of "diversity" and "catering for all skin tones". Stop with the marketing lies.

One of my ~fave~ things to do when a new brand follows me or I hear about a new brand, is to scroll down their Instagram feed and see how many dark-skinned POC they feature. I'm not talking white-mixed-race, light-skinned, because, let's face it, white people have that shade commercially covered now due to copious amounts of fake tan and black-fishing, but that's a chat for another day. I'm talking about my skin tone all the way up to Lupita's skin tone. Dark dark. 9 times out of 10 I'll be scrolling a while. I come across brands who are amazing at representation (Makeup Revolution, NYX, Fenty Beauty), and I come across brands who literally do not even feature one POC.

Now you could argue that featuring POC to be more inclusive is essentially the tick-boxing I've been talking about. And it is. But, it's the intention behind this that makes the difference. Are they making a change to be genuinely more inclusive and diverse? Or are they hopping on a diversity bandwagon for a hot minute?

It's usually easy to tell who is doing what- take the brand Papa Johns, for example. They were huge voices when it came to Black History Month and PRIDE. But their CEO and investors fund and openly support Trump's political campaigns and they were FOR building the wall...? A company which mixes Italian and American influences and prides their entire business on that mix of cultures... supports a political party and politician who is against immigration and is an outright racist? Let's not forget how incredibly racist history from America to Italy. Essentially they have jumped on the inclusivity and diversity train and used it as a giant marketing ploy to engage a further demographic, all as part of a business model. SO many brands do this. And yes, if you look deep enough, every brand is corrupt in some way or another, but really, it's about finding the obvious connections and getting down to the core of what they're doing and the intentions behind the actions.

Another example is Morphe being the champion for inclusivity and diversity for years, to then cast a collaboration with Jeffree Star *shudders with disgust*, a known and open racist. His token photos on his cosmetics profile aren't taking away from the fact that he told black people to "splash battery acid" on themselves to make themselves beautiful. Or the number of times he's called black people n*ggers. Or the fact that he called Jackie Aina a gorilla. Or the fact that he called brown people p*akis. Or the countless times he's been violent towards POC and women. Or literally any other time he's been racist or xenophobic.

If you think that supporting someone who acts this way is okay, then please have a long hard think about your actions. If buying a lipstick from this man is more of a priority than being an ally to black people and POC, then you should probably think about your actions. At the end of the day, it's make-up. There are SO many other brands who are un-problematic, CF and vegan that you can shop from, and you're choosing to support and put money in the pockets of a racist (who, by the way, gets his publicist to apologise every time, instead of actually making an apology himself).

People have this big energy for things like not listening to R. Kelly's music because he's a disgusting human, or even Michael Jackson, or Chris Brown. Where's this energy when it comes to boycotting white people? Buried in your privilege, perhaps?

I feel like I've rambled off track a little bit, so back to the matter at hand. Feeling like the token is especially shit when you don't realise it at first. I've worked on many campaigns, done many shoots, and turned up to many events in which I've been the only POC and it's just plain embarrassing to feel like everyone else fits a certain aesthetic and you don't. You're the odd one out and it's obvious.

I once turned up to a shoot for a brand back in 2017 and I was the only POC modelling. There weren't even any POC working the shoot. It was shots of the other three white girls, and then shots of me on my own. I felt alienated and awkward; it was a horrible experience. In the end, the shots of me weren't even used due to the brand "having enough photos" to use already. What's worse is that every other girl was getting paid for this work and I was doing it FOR FREE. When I asked the brand about why I wasn't paid, they said they had no budget left (a classic industry lie). But, the other girls had mentioned that they all stepped in last-minute as the other modelling agency cancelled. Bear in mind that I had confirmed for this campaign months before. If they had the budget to pay these models last minute, how had their budget ran out when I had asked to be paid months prior? I was the token. I didn't need to be paid because they knew all along they wouldn't ~actually~ use my shots.

So, what can you do if you're white? Well, if you're in a position to hire, hire more diverse people. If you're in a position to cast, cast more diverse people. If you're in a position to feature, feature more diverse people. If you're not in any of those positions, educate yourself. Follow more POC on social media, learn about different cultures. Learn correct terminology. Read "Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race". If you see racism in real life, call it out. Educate yourself on casual racism and evaluate if you're a casual racist (you'd be surprised at how many white friends I've had who have been casual racists). Learn to appreciate people for who they are and what they bring to the table, regardless of their skin colour. Learn to appreciate people for who they are and what they bring to the table because of their skin colour. Be curious and observant and stand up for what's right.

I know this post has come off as very ~ranty~ but in all seriousness, I'm actually so friendly and 100% up for educating people. If you have any questions relating to diversity, race, inclusivity, anything at all, please do drop me a message and ask!

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