On a Tuesday last November, the WeWork at 1 University Avenue in Toronto was buzzing. Influencers from around the GTA were mingling throughout the space, sipping on fruit-infused water and waiting for the marketing panel to start. It was a pretty typical Toronto networking event, except for the fact that everyone in the filled-to-capacity room was Black. And that’s exactly the point.
The event, The Black Influencer Experience, was the second for Code Black Comm Network, a network for Black communications professionals in the Toronto area, and featured discussions with prominent Black influencers in a range of professionsfrom comedy, to the fashion and music industry. The conversation revolved around breaking in to and making space for yourself in the industry.
Co-founder of Code Black Bunmi Adeoye thinks the large turnout at their influencer event is telling. “It says that people feel that it is a space that is blocked for them and they’re trying to understand, how do I get into that space?” Adeoye says. “Even people that are already within that space, some of the things that they’re looking for is, ‘Okay, now that I’m here, how do I navigate within that space against my non-Black counterparts who seem to be getting a lot or seem to be getting a more positive reception?”
For Black followers, a lack of acceptance also manifests itself in subtle ways. Over the last two years, Instagram heavyweights like My Life as Eva (@mylifeaseva) Quigley (@officiallyquigley) and Canada’s Jill Lansky (@theaugustdiaries) have taken to selling presets to their followers. Presets are custom filters that are applied using Adobe Lightroom, a photo-editing tool. For many influencers, their presets have become identifiable, and a part of their brand, and followers will purchase these filters to elevate the crispness and colours of their own photos.
But, like many things, the presets were largely catered to white demographics. As Adeoye points out, it’s detrimental when we’re all the same colour of beige, for both individuals and the industry. If you don’t see yourself reflected in a space, “people think ‘Oh, well this may not be for me or I may not succeed in this, or it’s only for a certain type of person,’ ” she says. And with growing talk within the industry and society about the “death of the influencer” due to over-saturation, Adeoye questions how that’s even possible, when Black influencers are still waiting to get their foot in the door.
“How can you be talking about the death of the influencer when Black influencers haven’t even really been able to build traction yet?” she asks. “There’s so much opportunity there. It’s a whole group of people that have been untapped that have so much knowledge and so much experience.”