Are black women getting discriminated against even when they're top influencers?

Patricia Bright attends the TommyXZendaya collection launch event at the Tommy Hilfiger store in London
Patricia Bright attends the TommyXZendaya collection launch event at the Tommy Hilfiger store in London

Influencer marketing has become quite popular amongst many corporates around the world.

And many influencers have careers based solely on their social media and brand partnerships.

It seems like such an attractive and lucrative career path to choose especially when it seems as if you get to do what you love while being paid for it. Unfortunately, this career path seems to have inherited traditional careers – pay discrimination.

Countless YouTubers and Instagrammers have however posted about how their lives are not glamorous as it appears, the prevailing issue is finances. These influencers have revealed how their white counterparts earn significantly more and get booked for brand deals more often than they do.

British YouTuber Patricia Bright, with close to three million subscribers on the video sharing app, told The Cut that she found out she wasn't even getting paid a fifth of the income her one white counterpart was making.

“Even though we had the same number of subscribers, I wasn’t even making a fifth of what she was making. When I asked how she got all of those deals, she told me how she had friends at those brands. It’s that kind of access, too, that is a barrier to our success,” she tells the publication.

British Instagrammer Ama Peters, with more than 48 000 followers, has shared how her race has played a role in the brand partnerships she books.

“I think race affects the work I get. Working with a lot of British brands, they kind of favour the average English-looking blogger. I want to break through that ceiling and show other people they can have a career in fashion, blogging or anything, no matter the race they are,” she tells The Guardian.

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These are not the first influencers to open up about how their race affect their income and it has reached a level where a group was started to specifically address the economic marginalisation of black influencers.

A Forbes contributor argues that black influencers lead trends and dominate conversations online but many of them are overlooked and underpaid.

Black people working as influencers often speak about how difficult it is to attain and sustain income in the business.

Here, Mihlali Ndamase and Sibu Mpanza share how YouTube is not a quick way to make money:

Being an influencer or being paid to market brands using your social media accounts as a career is, like many in the industry have reiterated, a full-time job. Could this line of work, although relatively new, suffer from some pay discrimination practices faced by traditional corporate jobs?

Labour economist and consultant Andrew Levy says this is definitely the case.

In traditional work environments, Andrew says: “The first wage discrimination is according to gender, women are routinely discriminated against. The second, around the world – this is not a South African problem, is based on race. So obviously black women have the most difficult time of all.”

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“It will bleed over, but the higher the skill level, the less the [bias] will be, but it will still be there,” he adds.

We are already seeing proof of that, especially in specific areas of content. For example, a search on Google for South African fitness influencers or South African food influencers will reveal that the ratio of successful white to black influencers is disproportionate.

The international and local digital marketing industry seems to show bias against black content creators and influencers and it’s a phenomenon that is not easy to explain.

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Andrew says pay discrimination is something that is rooted in our history, not only locally but internationally as well, but says over time it can be fixed.

“The argument that you can’t put it right, because that has a negative effect on business, is not a sustainable argument,” he adds.

As more awareness and participation takes place around working as an influencer, we can only hope the disruptive nature of digital will assist in equalling the playing field.

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