Five years ago (in March 2013), I decided to dedicate my time to a blog -- a place where I could express myself and share all the things I loved. Before the extravagant brand trips, parties, and money really became a thing, most of us started our platforms as a result of pure passion.
After my first year, I got my first paid opportunity to co-host an in-store event for The Limited. It was extremely exciting, but I'd never thought about about monetizing my blog on that scale nor had I ever been asked for my rates. Since my blog was growing, I'd decided to apply to a platform called rewardStyle to begin incorporating ads and affiliate links at my one-year mark. In April 2014, I was accepted to the platform and began utilizing the ads and affiliate links on my blog. By December 2014, my account was frozen because I had "not managed to make a sale for 3 months".
When I reached out to my account manager to see what I could do and inquire about other strategies I could use in order to do well, I was told to reapply in another 2-3 months after working to grow and engage my audience more. Okay cool, no biggie -- I worked hard to do just that. After another 3 months in March 2015 (my two year blogiversary), I reapplied for rewardStyle and was declined.
I wasn't upset or anything. Despite this, my blog continued to grow organically. By December 2015, I was accepted into the Mode Media's blogger network and secured several brand partnerships, including a major social media commercial opportunity with Target in 2016. Needless to say, my journey did not end nor was it greatly affected by being dropped or declined by rewardStyle. I'm still out here kickin' it.
Exclusive Blogger Conferences
I remember when rewardStyle hosted their very first blogger conference here in Dallas (their company is based here) in 2013. I don't think I thought anything of it for the first few years -- I realized that it was pretty exclusive, but after the first couple of conferences, I noticed something and it raised some questions. One being:
Where the hell are the bloggers of color?!
Because we damn sure exist. Each year, those attending the conference looked the same and it led me to wonder why no bloggers of color were ever invited. At the first conference, it was reported that 100 top bloggers from the platform were invited. By the second conference, that number had been upped to approximately 200 of their top bloggers and has remained since. Over the years, I've frequently noticed and questioned the same thing with other panels, conferences and workshops. No representation. It truly boggled my mind.
If you want to say that no bloggers of color are in the top [whatever number you come up with], then aight I guess -- but I see a lack in other areas as well. So what's that about? We notice.
A Problematic Lack of Diversity
While I am speaking about racial diversity in this instance, ALL of this also applies to many other areas as well -- style, body type, gender/sexual orientation, age, etc. The list goes on! I'm definitely tired of seeing the same types of influencers represented in this space -- PERIOD. And please understand that when I say "bloggers of color", I am not only speaking of black bloggers!
One of the most problematic parts of this is that brands, marketing and PR agencies who partner with or use any of these other non-diverse platforms or half-assed "Top Influencer" lists use them to aid in their outreach...leading to non-diverse campaigns, panels, etc. Lack of diversity in these spaces bleed and trickle down leaving consumers to question what is going wrong at the top. Bloggers/influencers of colors do exist and they are out here killing the game.
In my five years as a blogger, I've watched the community evolve...so why haven't these spaces? What's the real tea, sis?
But the MOST problematic part, in my opinion, is that some-freaking-how, no one in these settings (brands and bloggers alike) seem to find any issue with the lack of diversity. Like, it never rings in their minds at all. Or if it does, they're too afraid to speak out -- which leads me to my next point...
Speaking Out from the Inside
Bloggers of color have used their voices to talk about this for years and, while those over these companies are certainly aware by now, nothing has changed. So what does it take? And let me make this clear -- rewardStyle is not the only platform like this, but recent conversations regarding their yearly conference have sparked dialogue within the community and amongst creators of color.
When people of color bring up an issue, we're told that we are "complaining" or our points are trivialized. Or we're told that we're making "harsh claims" as I read in the comments of one post. Yeah, aight. *rolls eyes*
It's interesting to me that while their "peers" speak up for inclusion and diversity, the ones who benefit the most don't EVER have anything to say, are too afraid to say something and/or genuinely don't see anything wrong occurring here. It's wild, really.
Some of the same bloggers who "kiki" with us at events don't have a damn thing to say or bring to the conversation. I don't expect it, but it's just interesting to see exactly who gets quiet when these topics arise. Simply an observation. *shrug*
But shoutout to the allies who have realized these things and spoken up. Can't forget about y'all.
I Don't Want Another Bullshit Explanation
I'm not here for a bullshit explanation about why bloggers of color aren't thought of or included. Keep it. Do better.
To be completely honest, I've been exhausted for at least two years now. I'm tired of having the same conversation about this same conferences each year; however, it continues to serve as an annual reminder that nothing has changed much...and it probably won't because it seems none of these people are interested in making that change within their own platforms.
While around 200 "top influencers" are invited each year to this particular conference, thousands utilize the platform...so it would seem to me that you would want more types of people to prosper. Why not extend the opportunity to learn to others rather than basically the same influencers each year?
Even aside from these conferences where attendees are linked with brands for partnerships and given additional tools/strategies/tips for growth, bloggers of color do use the platforms but are barely represented elsewhere.
With that being said, whether you've been dropped, declined or have never been apart of this platform or others, please do understand that they're certainly not the be-all and end-all. It is okay. You can absolutely still prosper without them. However, when you barely see anyone represented who looks like you when you know damn well we exist, the frustration is all too familiar. It can be discouraging, but it's not "game over" and it's a [thin] glass ceiling that we can indeed shatter together.
What Is The Next Step?
As I stated before, I'm not looking for an explanation at this point nor a pity invitation. I don't expect change but if it happens, color me shocked. But we know why. We see...every single year. So what now? If they wanted to include and invite us to the table, they would have by now. At this point, I say we simply create our own space and continue to prosper. Collectively, WE have hella connections and skills to make anything happen. Let's get that conversation poppin' and use our energy in other ways.