In a now-deleted post on a BLM-inspired Instagram account, the owner of the page ‘Independent Black Businesses’, with a 7000-strong following came clean to her followers: “I am white”, she declared, posting a picture of herself for added clarity.
“It has been brought to my attention recently that there has been some confusion over the face behind @independentblackbusinesses”, she went on to write. It seemed she hadn’t yet realised that she’d caused offence.
“So you’ve had this page for almost six months, you’ve posted over 100 times and you never thought it was important to highlight that you’re a white woman”, one user fumed.
Another explained: “The exposure you have created for Black-owned businesses is so valuable. The way you chose to go about it feels unethical”.
Not only was she accused of being unethical, but she was now also being accused of “digital Blackface”, pretending to be Black online, after routinely using Black emojis and dropping the occasional cultural reference, perhaps for added measure.
For months – at least six – the account’s owner opened her DMs to Black entrepreneurs expressing their race-related troubles with her, believing that the person behind the account could relate through lived experience – they were never corrected.
And yet, she denied any wrongdoing, refusing to respond to comments calling her out.
So why had she chosen to start the account in the first place?
In a blog post, she states that she woke to the realities of racism after the murder of George Floyd:
“Following another horrific, unjust murder of a Black man, George Floyd, I felt compelled to create a platform to actively dismantle the systemic racist socio-economic structures that still exist within the UK. I believe part of this starts with our money; where and who we choose to consume with can have a strong impact on how the system is perpetuated or disrupted.”
She wasn’t off to the worst start.
But it soon went downhill.
“Independent Black Businesses” had begun to solicit funds from their followers and supporters, purportedly to support the page’s growth. All without disclosing exactly who was behind it. It might be natural to presume that at least some of those willing to donate will have been the Black business owners who benefited from the exposure received by being on the page. Helen had essentially set herself up to profit from, to mine the pockets of, the exact people she claimed to stand in solidarity with.
And that’s just it, isn’t it?
In the age of Black Lives Matter, outward displays of anti-racism are profitable.
So popular that today, even the most racist of publications have flung themselves behind “the movement”.
Some are slightly more coy – throw a Black actor in here, hire a Brown one there – others are going all out.
After trying to go back to business as normal, deleting some of the negative comments on her page or outright ignoring them, Helen continued to get called out.
She then announced that she’d explore recruiting a Black co-manager to continue the page, but eventually, as the backlash went on, she shut it down completely – wiping the internet of almost every trace of “Independent Black Businesses” there ever was.
But this is just one of the many instances in which everyone from big brands to micro-influencers ultimately seek to profit from Black struggles.
Remember the businessman who tried to trademark Black Lives Matter and I can’t breathe? Or the popular fashion brands that chose to stay silent on BLM until Black influencers started to call them out. (Even when they finally spoke out they still couldn’t fake it hard enough. )
In a profit-driven society, it isn’t surprising that a price tag is attached to much of the solidarity we see on display.
But it’s about time we put our collective coin away and stop being the willing customers we once were.
Below are a few Black-owned initiatives amplifying Black businesses that you can support today: