Unraveling The Racial Power Dynamics Woven Into Ethical Fashion Industry That Folks Are Ignoring (Part 1)
DISCLAIMER: Please note while I’m a transparent person that this is not easy for me to post. This was during the worst time of my life professionally and privately. I am reliving this solely for educational purposes for brands, bloggers, and news outlets. Regardless of my fears, I’d rather make several mistakes trying to stand up for what I believe in verses staying comfortable and silent. . I am not linking TMW or mentioning the name of the other contributor in this piece. Despite disagreeing with how people involved handled this situation, I do respect them as people. I also respect myself enough to share my story in hopes that it will hopefully ripple actual change in this space. Check out my Instagram Story Highlights under “BrokeNotBroken” for “evidence” if you wish.
This experience is so much bigger than me, my feelings, and people disagreeing with my work. It is not about the “mean” comments. I am fully aware that people will disagree with my work, which is exactly why I have continued to create content online since 2010. I respect people for honoring their differing opinions and believe that you can love and coexist with someone who doesn’t share the same beliefs as you. You will always have the right to share your opinion about my content. However, I, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), brands like M.A.C Cosmetics, or someone with personal boundaries will not tolerate abuse in any form (i.e. harassment, mental, emotional, financial, verbal, physical, sexual, defamation, and crossing of my personal boundaries) whether it’s online, the workplace, church, etc. While the online world is tricky and cyber bullying still happens…this remains a nonnegotiable for ME.
In these posts, I’ll be discussing what happened, what went wrong, and diving deeper into the following:
(Part I) Brands Doing Diversity Wrong: Subtle Forms of Racism, Lack Of Responsibility, and How To Change This Situation
(Part II) Mental Health As A Black Women: How Black Women Writers Are Targeted, The Dehumanization Of BIPOC, and How To Advocate And Protect Black Women
(Part III) Ethical Fashion Community: Observing & Turning A Blind Eye, The Marketing Of “Diversity & Inclusion”, and Where Do We Go From Here
What Happened + What Went Wrong?
On December 19th, 2018, my article 10 Gifts You Should Politely Decline As A Minimalist for (TMW) was published along side a “partnered” article titled 7 Ways To Manage Unwanted Gifts by another contributor. I woke up to hundreds of comments, mentions, and tags (from predominately White women) “disagreeing” with the article. Some commenters proceeded to take a step into the realm of cyberbullying and harassment with multiple threads and likes from people saying that I was “a shitty person,” “self-centered,” “obnoxious,” “ungrateful,” “a pretentious ass” and some even went as far to say that I am “an embarrassment to my family.” Although I was shocked with people have strong opinions about gifts, that is not the major issue as I stated in my Instagram Stories that day. I continued to even reply back to some of the commenters to listen and learn where they are coming from or why it was written that way (see #brokenotbroken highlight).
On December 20th, 2018, the second “partnered” article (which I did not know about nor would I agree to that) by white contributor received a handful of comments of people explicitly comparing our articles and chose to respond thanking them for receiving her “thoughtful” and “kind” way of declining a gift. Other bloggers chimed in affirming her article while blatantly stating their disagreement with comparing the “tone” of my article. She thanked them for praising her “kindness.” I explained to the other contributor why this was wrong and hurtful as a white woman and my peer. I was met with excuses, justification, and directing me to speak with TMW.
I hate that I have to even clarify this but everyone has the legal right to freedom of speech (i.e. “this was the worst article I’ve ever read”) but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re discussing when does “free speech” go too far? Glad you asked. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, free speech goes too far when it becomes an intentional personal attack, hate-speech (explicit or subtle), or defamation of character. This is something that goes beyond the walls of the workplace and is absolutely applicable online.
Brands Doing Diversity Wrong: Subtle Forms of Racism, Lack Of Responsibility, and How To Change This Situation
Micro-agressions and blatant racism occurs daily in the workplace from retail, entrepreneurs, and to VP Level Executives. While it happens, this is not an excuse for this behavior to continue, especially when brands and companies are shifting towards diversity and inclusion. There were so many issues that TMW and other brands who are doing diversity wrong could have been avoided and reconciled that were unfortunately ignored. Regardless, of this is painful experience is a teaching moment for brands and websites to take note:
Initial and Continued Lack of Diversity Specifically Including BIPOC (Black Indigenous People Of Color): Ironically, I was given the opportunity to write for TMW while I inquired about seeing more diverse bloggers on his Instagram page. He then responded with the typical brand response of asking me who would I recommend and I gave him a list of about 4-5 Black Minimalist/Ethical Fashion bloggers to email (you can see the list on my #BrokeNotBroken highlight). I do not over extend myself to do more because frankly. He then responded that he liked my writing and would like me to contribute. However, three article later over the course of a few months with newly added contributors…I was still the only Black writer on his website.
Exploiting Black Writers BIPOC) Or Racist Products For Engagement: It’s obvious that brands like Gucci, Prada, and in this case TMW are profiting off of the exploitation of Black people. I am convinced that not only is this revealing the subtle micro-agressions and overt racism that is woven into the foundation of these companies but it now used as marketing tactic to receive higher engagement. Example: Gucci releases a BlackFace sweater. Black people react and tweet about it. More people react and tweet about it. Gucci makes a public apology. After 50 years, Gucci hires a Director of Diversity and Inclusion. Gucci sales and/or engagement increases. It goes back to that old saying, “Bad publicity is still publicity.” This is exactly what happened with TMW. I stood up for myself and many others joined in to support me and the TMW instagram account still grew. Comments on my article’s picture increased. Whether TMW has or will use this gives him leverage to pitch brands for higher sponsorships or other paid collaborations at not only myself but the future of other Black contributors. This is the very reason I am saying something so that this WILL not happen again.
I know that other POC experience racism in this industry but right now I am speaking of my own experience and specifically what Black Women endure.
Assigning Similar or Closely Related Topics To Contributors: After speaking with the other contributor, I was told that “this was not the first time that she and others were asked to write about the same topic that has been written or in the process of being written.” This is extremely problematic due to potential overlap and potential plagiarism. Unfortunately, there was a LOT of overlap in both articles. I covered the very same points but was still found to be “mean, self-is, etc.” in comparison to the other contributor. Also, I noted potential plagiarism because I’m not sure if TMW gave these contributors snippets of the articles before it was published or detail leads on what other writers were talking about. I did not know nor have I seen anyone else’s article while contributing for TMW. That just doesn’t sit right with me. Regardless, this makes me uncomfortable as an independent writer. From a business perspective, I understand repurposing grassroots articles that we’re successful. However, this is NOT ok when it’s NOT your work and especially if you’re NOT compensating the very writer’s who’s pitched article was being re-written.
Pitting To Articles Against One Another: This ties in with the last point. TMW or the other contributor never told me prior to TMW’s Instagram announcement that I would have partner articled. It wasn’t until after I addressed the other contributor that she admitted this was not the first time. I explained to the other contributor one this is my WORK and as any writer, I take my intellectual property very seriously. Also, I explained to them that as my peer on this platform and in the Minimalism community this is wrong on so many levels. I want to mention that in TMW’s instagram post they made a false assumption about my article despite our private DMs. He implied and said that I intentionally wrote a “popular” and “controversial” article. Not only is this false but I explicitly wrote in the article that it was “intentionally silly.” Again, if people perceive it in a different way then I can not control that. But for TMW to not accurately defend the work of his contributors and moderate the comments is unethical and unprofessional.
The Contributors Scrambling For A PR Response: I’m not going heavy into this out of respect for the other contributors but believe me when I say I was extremely hurt by what I read internally. It was like I was invisible team member in a boardroom filled with people talking for/about me of the public humiliation that I experienced. It was solely, “push through, don’t take it personally, and get over it” mixed with “I’m so sorry Deb. Now, here’s what we’re going to say!” (see #brokenotbroken highlights). I didn’t feel safe to jump in because after my messages with TMW’s Founder and reading their plans to fix things made me that they didn’t even have the awareness to see that this was indeed, a racial issue. It wasn’t until my friends and later so many others said something that TMW and the contributors started taking things seriously.
TMW’s “PSA Highlight ‘Apology’” That Was Shortly After: I was deeply hurt, angry, and felt exploited to say the least with TMW’s accusatory, entirely insincere, and lack of responsibility that was displayed in his “apology” which has been deleted. Why do I think it was insincere? TMW, the majority of contributors, and a lot of bloggers in the community watched the process unfold and kept business as usual.
TMW: Subtle Forms of Racism, Lack Of Responsibility, and How To Change This Situation
From small business owners, growing news outlet sites, and large fashion corporations: if you do not have any BIPOC, specifically Black People in Executive Roles at your company then your ethics are questionable. Here are some questions to think about as a predominately white company:
Do we have BlPOC and/or Black leaders in our company?
If you’re making the effort, how is your team trained to handle racial issues when they arise?
Do our POC employees and especially your Black employees feel safe bring up improvements for diversity?
Do we have a “token Black” employee or are we actively hiring more Black prospectives for different levels and roles in our company?
TMW not adding any Black writers into the space and his lack of responsibility in his apology have shattered the trust of his brand. While his following is still growing, a blogger gathered information that 16% of his following are fake. Brands exhibiting this type of behavior may ‘win’ in the short term but this is not sustainable. So, how could TMW and Ethical Brands who are doing diversity wrong fix situations like this? Reparations. Financially, opportunity-based, and leadership roles for BIPOC, especially Black creatives to have. Before you throw affirmative action at me, this is not. This is exactly for predominately White brands and companies that actually want to implement diversity to release their power to Black people.
Fix this by paying every Black Blogger and Influencer who are publicly speaking out against racism and every other form of injustice to be your Equality and Inclusion Consultant. With the same opportunities that you give white bloggers, giving them first dibs on when your budget is renewed for sponsorships, and honoring Black people to be more than just your Director of Diversity in your predominately white company.
(Part II) Mental Health As A Black Women: How Black Women Writers Are Targeted, The Dehumanization Of BIPOC, and How To Advocate And Protect Black Women
According to MT Technology Review article, “Female Black Journalists and politicians are sent an abusive tweet every 30 seconds.” Last December, the President of Ethical Writers, went on Instagram Live discussing the harassment I received from TMW. In her live, she explicitly said, “That I wrote a strongly worded article” and later went on to discuss how she’s been a journalist for X amount of years and has “thick skin." This is fascinating to me because she did not reach out to me as a journalist to gather any of the facts. She made numerous false public statements about me and 4 of my friends, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Well, according to (MIT Tech Review), “Black Women journalists are likely to be targeted in abusive and problematic 84% more than White Women at 35%.” So, for a privileged, white woman journalist to say that is extremely dehumanizing. White Women could never relate to the level of thick skin that not only myself but other Black women are required to have in this world, let alone in this industry. But as a Black woman, I could lose everything I’ve worked for by “making her feel uncomfortable or “unsafe” and I politely reached out to her to talk. We entered into an almost 2 hour conversation. I also politely asked her to stop spreading rumors and defaming the reputation of 5 BIPOC individuals. She refused.
Here’s an excerpt from my friend Emi amongst 4 other individuals (names are changed for privacy), which the president has intentionally attempted to damage their reputations. So much so that that some have went private for safety reasons. Hear me when I say that this is not Instagram drama. This is a deeply woven racial issue that has been stitched into the fabric of our country and sewn into the Ethical Fashion Industry.
Please read and honor the story of the women who were harassed in the process of defending themselves and me.
When I posted my original instagram post was not a “cry for pity and attention.” I’m assuming that’s why I had hundred of comments saying “I’m so sorry Deb. Keep your head up.” While I deeply appreciate the encouragement, I was crying because it is exhausting to be the “strong Black Woman” who is carrying the trauma of her ancestors and the current side effects manifested into our mental health issues. It is exhausting being a Black woman. It’s exhausting that. I am only seen when my Asian sisters rallied behind me. While I am immensely grateful for them and the people who joined in to uplift me, I cannot help but wonder…Why was my voice not enough on its own? Why was I not believed the first time I addressed TMW and the other contributor? Why does this industry pit other Black women against each other by not working with more vocal Black Influencers vs ones who are “neutral”?
Racism is not political. It absolutely involves politics but racism is a humanity and morality issue. Personally, I believe that discrimination of any person, whether you like or dislike, agree or disagree about their beliefs, is an abomination of what God created us to be. It became political when the government, laws, and corporations built and enforced political systems based on increasing their own wealth, power, and control. Therefore, using the excuse let’s not talk politics when someone is addressing a racist issue is a cop-out.
BIPOC, especially Black women are dehumanized in overt and subtle ways daily. You can’t open Instagram or turn on the news without hearing about an injustice and it’s usually BIPOC who are leading the fight for justice. But what is the most disheartening is when “Ethical” Fashion Brands unintentionally or intentionally pit Black creatives against one another. As creatives, we see and know who you are working with and vice versa. The good thing about seeing brands collaborating or doing sponsorships with BIPOC influencers is that we realize that it’s a high probability that brand actually values diversity.
However, the problem comes when Ethical Fashion Brands only choose to work with BIPOC bloggers who are neutral in the face of injustice. Let me get more specific: If I speak out against racism, I am almost guaranteed NOT to receive a response back let alone work on a paid collaboration because I’m vocal about racism. Why? It’s deemed aggressive, problematic, and unprofessional…unless it’s a white woman calling out the lack of “color” like celebrity Ellen Pompello. This might not be true for all brands and especially ethical brands but this is definitely something brands need to take into consideration of talking about these issues.