Black History Month Is 'Christmas For Creatives', But We're Not Celebrating

“I need the work, but on the other hand, it leaves me questioning why now?"
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October marks the start of Black History Month in the UK – a time where Black people reflect on what we’ve overcome whilst celebrating our achievements as a community. Of course this is a significant month and even more significant for Black creatives.

For Black influencers in particular, Black History Month is a time where they can potentially make a lot of money. So much so, that the month has been branded ‘Christmas time’ for Black creatives.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a bad thing, right? Brands are reaching out to you to work on a campaign to shed light on racial injustices, or you’ve been invited on a panel to discuss Blackness whilst being able to make money. It sounds – on the surface – like a win-win situation.

But the issue is, Black creatives only seem to make large amounts of money during Black History Month.

This was the finding in the newly launched report from public relations firm MSL, which investigated the wage gap felt by some influencers and creatives.

“I make the most money during Black History Month and then won’t hear from that brand/platform until the next year,” one anonymous response to the survey said.

Another respondent spoke to the performative nature of brands during the resurgence of Black Lives Matter. “We all saw how a lot of brands acted during the BLM boom and then went back to their old ways,” they said.

Margo Gabriel, a 36-year-old freelance writer who lives in Lisbon, typically covers food, lifestyle and travel. Since 2020 she found that publications would commission her to write listicles and profiles specifically for Black History Month.

“As a freelance writer, landing commissioned pieces are a boon to my career,” she shares.

However, she noticed that editors would only reach out with assignments that covered points of interest relating to the African American experience in certain regions.

“While I do take pride in amplifying the work of individuals actively engaged in social impact work within the Black community, part of me felt as if these commissions were ‘hand outs,’ for lack of a better term,” she says.

“I need the work, but on the other hand, it leaves me questioning why now? I’ve been writing for 10 years and it’s really only in the last four years that my career is taking off. There’s lot of nuance at play since the ‘racial reckoning’ that consumed much of the media in 2020.”

Unfortunately this wasn’t the only bad news that came out of the report. Currently, there’s a 29% pay gap between Black and white influencers. The gap between Black and white influencers is larger than the US national gap between Black and white workers across any industry, the report found.

MSL anonymously surveyed nearly 600 UK influencers, gathering data relating to race, but also other intersectional demographics such as age and disability.

When negotiating potential fees, white influencers are nearly three times more likely to generate a positive outcome than Black influencers. Which is a bleak statistic, considering we’ve previously reported on this two years ago.

Influencer Mikai Mcdermott previously told HuffPost UK that she will never forget finding out – in the middle of a photoshoot for a popular hair and beauty brand – that she was being paid a fraction of the fee of another woman in the room. “I actually asked a white influencer what her rate was and it was 10 times more than what I had asked for, despite the brand telling me they had no budget,” she said.

Mcdermott asked for change in the industry, but it seems like there hasn’t been much since then.

“There needs to be more transparency between Black and white influencers. I think brands need to have more integrity when it comes to working with Black influencers, and we need to stop underpricing ourselves and accepting low paid or free work, especially if you have an engaged and loyal audience,” she said. “I also think it’s important that we collaborate more and share each other’s work.”

Outside of race, the report also highlighted an age pay gap. Influencers between the ages of 30-45 are paid 153.6% less than those aged 18-30. Additionally, disabled influencers highlighted how they’re are often under-paid compared to their able-bodied peers.

Influencers who defined themselves as having a long-term physical or mental health condition earned 23% less per post than others.

Clara Homes, a UK-based model and influencer who creates fashion and lifestyle content, has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is an inherited connective tissue disorder. She’s been using a wheelchair for 17 years.

Homes says she’s experienced disproportionately low pay as a Black disabled woman compared to her white non-disabled creators in the industry. “In the beginning, like everyone else you are happy that a brand notices you and would like to feature you on their platform in return for sending you ‘gifted’ items,” Homes says.

“However, these gifts started to come with conditions and deadlines and when I spoke with other influencers who were white, they were doing the same
campaigns, but offered a fee.”

But why do these pay gaps persist in the influencing world? MSL thinks one of the biggest drivers is the lack of pay transparency, because it’s still an unregulated industry.

“Our research shows that 52% of the influencers we surveyed don’t have a specific formula to determine what to charge and often work out their rates by asking peers for advice,” the report says.

Another factor, is that influencers are routinely asked to work for free in return for product or exposure, especially at the beginning of their career.

Then there’s the issue of speaking out. After the death of George Floyd, more influencers used their platforms to speak out against racial injustices. But influencers who speak up often see commercial partnerships revoked.

Over a third (35%) of survey respondents said they felt there was a direct correlation between them speaking on discrimination issues and brands not approaching them.

The stats are alarming, but what can be done to tackle the influencer pay gap? MSL believes there’s a need to provide negotiation training and development of minority influencers, especially at the beginning of their career, which is why it has partnered with The Influencer League to train 500 influencers in the US.

“It’s something that we will continue in the UK and in 2023 we support 500 more,” the company said.

What else should be done? MSL believe agencies should:

  • Encourage industry best-practices for agencies to track and declare their Influencer pay data
  • Encourage brands to hold their agencies to account on diversity pay data
  • Continue to champion diversity within agencies because more diverse teams = more diverse work.