You Can’t Be An “Ethical Influencer” While Perpetuating White Supremacy

If you have a platform online, if you become an “influencer” (which I also have feelings about) in the ‘ethical’ lifestyle or environmentalist space and you don’t include BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) folx, you’re just a pretty white face fishing for attention and free shit from brands. If you spend more time promoting yourself or frivolous products than you do asking questions, demanding answers, and leading by example, you’re just marketing, not influencing.

We need to talk about white supremacy in the eco echo chamber. It’s not enough to be a white Western person who isn’t actively racist, and you don’t get a cookie for simply being a decent person; you need to be an anti-racist to truly say you fight for equality, ethics, and sustainability. 

I’m specifically reacting to controversy surrounding Ethical Writers and Creatives (EWC) and its cofounder and former President, Alden Wicker from sustainable fashion blog, EcoCult. Many of you probably follow both accounts. I also want to say that the bulk of this reporting has been done by marginalized activists on Instagram, specifically writer and fashion consultant Aja Barber; I’m just trying to use my anger to elevate their stories.

Screenshot of EcoCult website.
Aja Barber. Image via Twitter.

The EWC group were criticized for being too white and one look at their Instagram account filled with images of members and it seems they certainly are. Instead of engaging in a frank discussion about privilege, race, and what it means to advocate for ethics, Alden consistently demonized women of color and other marginalized people. She committed some of the biggest sins that privileged white “liberals” often fall into.

What not to do as an ‘ethical’ leader

First, she engaged in tone policing, equating when women asked hard questions of her and others in her orbit to bullying.

Second, she tries to use Dr. King to push the white supremacist idea that respectability or decorum somehow is a bigger issue than racism. As Bernice King tweeted: “Please don’t use my father to suggest or assert that respectability cures racism. The white supremacy affirming racist discriminates against Black bodies whether the bodies are in sharp suits or in sagging pants. And my father was assassinated while dressed respectably.”

Finally, Alden tries to assert the “no war but class war” argument, albeit poorly, claiming that institutionalized white supremacy doesn’t exist because people of color can be successful or leaders in their industry. She expressed most of her viewpoints on her Instagram Stories (Alden has subsequently disabled her public @ecocult Instagram account).

Related Post: An Insider’s Take on Eco Fashion Blogging and Ethical Fashion Influencers

EWC’s former President’s central premise was that she and others were being attacked for not being “wise on race,” to which I would ask “what kind of ethics are you promoting if marginalized folx aren’t a part of it?” It reeks of white saviorism, that garment workers abroad are somehow more deserving of her time and energy than BIPOC in her own community, maybe because they’re too vocal and don’t make for a self-congratulatory photo shoot. 

The whiteness of Instagram’s ‘eco’ and ‘ethical’ community

Let’s unpack some of the whiteness and institutionalized white supremacy within the sustainable/ethical Instagram world. It’s a visual medium, which inherently privileges those who fall within Western beauty standards, which is just skinny cis white women. The Instagram algorithm puts posts with more engagements ahead of those without, exponentially increasing the difference between content that is and isn’t seen. That benefits cis white women. Furthermore, most brands claiming to be ethical/sustainable are looking for models to promote their goods as a lifestyle package. Guess what kind of bodies they’re looking for? The fashion industry still hates trans, gender-nonconforming, disabled, black, indigenous, and other non-white, non-cis bodies. This creates a bubble where white bodies are celebrated while marginalized people struggle to be seen. If your “ethical” feed looks like the Google image search of “woman eating a salad laughing stock photo” you are part of the problem. 

Ethical Writers & Creatives group on Instagram
Ethical Writers & Creatives group on Instagram.

Furthermore, many  influencers make their money by promoting products, despite the fact that you don’t actually need to buy anything to live an environmentalist and ethical lifestyle. Racism and classism intersect at myriad points in modern cultures, and the consumerist backdrop of many of these influencers is necessarily exclusionary. By selling a lifestyle, they’re selling whiteness and wealth. This continues the destructive narrative that environmentalism is just for rich white people, which I touch on in my article about Environmental Justice, a better ideology to advocate for. 

“The consumerist backdrop of many of these [ethical] influencers is necessarily exclusionary. By selling a lifestyle, they’re selling whiteness and wealth…”

Mary imgrund

White fragility is a thing

You may be reading this feeling a little defensive, or you may be thinking “I’m not  like that.” White fragility and white exceptionalism are both two ways white supremacy manifests itself without you realizing it, and it’s why fighting racism is an active process. You can’t just say “I’m not a racist” and stop. White fragility describes when a person can’t remove themself from their race, taking personal umbrage with comments disparaging whiteness. You may feel it because you’ve never had to be identified by your race because whiteness is considered “default” by society, or that you’ve never been forced to speak for your race as many people of color have to on a daily basis.

You might think you’re an exception because you’re a ‘good’ liberal who reads Ta-Nehisi Coates and watched The Wire. But you can’t fight white supremacy without first addressing your own whiteness and imperialist mindset. Your whiteness takes up space without you doing a single thing.  You need to actively find ways to make it small and turn it into a megaphone for marginalized voices, because you can’t just use it as a personal suit of armor. Remember, most white women in the United States voted for Trump in 2016. You aren’t “one of the good ones.” 

A dear friend and expert textile artist (@SweetLouSnuggles on Instagram) told me about how the knitting community on Instagram recently grappled with race in a productive way. They started threads to tag and uplift knitters and other textile artisans of color and began a loose book club reading the “Me and White Supremacy” workbook by Layla F. Saad. I’ve read it, and it’s a great resource; it’s also free and you should download it right now. Eco-conscious influencers should follow the fiber community’s example and do the hard work to correct our problem.

Layla F. Saad author of Me and White Supremacy Workbook. Credit: Layla F. Saad

If the “eco” community doesn’t have the strength to advocate for a better world for all people, I want no part in it. We need to take anti-racism seriously, because racists and racism are deadly serious. Just last week, an Alabama paper published an editorial written by its editor musing that the KKK should ride again. The author later said he would do it again and stands by his decision to publish it. Online, there are racists harassing people of color and recruiting whites every day. There’s nothing “ethical” about letting BIPOC do all the anti-racism work while they’re experiencing that trauma. The work is hard, and you need to start within. Don’t run off and write a post about how you feel or make a cute graphic for your followers. This isn’t about you, nor is it a chance to gain some followers. It’s about your responsibility to relinquish the power you hold in such excess.

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Title image credit: Layla F. Saad.

The post You Can’t Be An “Ethical Influencer” While Perpetuating White Supremacy appeared first on Eco Warrior Princess.

You Can’t Be An “Ethical Influencer” While Perpetuating White Supremacy