For those of us connected to the US market, racial tensions seem to have risen to a fever pitch. This is the unfortunate outcome of the increased divisiveness in the political arena, and the leadership that is driving it. One the flip side, awareness and dialogue online about subtle and overt racism has also increased, leading to an expansion of our collective awareness of the myriad forms of hate, discrimination, white privilege and supremacy. And a groundswell of people of color who are not having it anymore.
This past year, I witnessed a Goddess Summit being taken down by an angry social media mob in real time. As a woman of color, I completely understood the outrage of the people complaining online. Why were there no women of color on this Goddess Yoga event? What is up with the cultural appropriation of yoga and white people getting rich off other people’s spiritual traditions?
At the same time, as an 8-time virtual summit host, I also felt sympathy for the organizers – summits are a huge amount of work to produce. It must have been hugely stressful and exhausting to have to cancel your summit during the launch window, due to an angry virtual mob, many of whom had no idea what goes on behind the veil of a summit launch.
Shortly afterwards, I watched Danielle Laporte’s spiritually-focused, personal development program called “Lighter” get taken down by an angry Facebook mob as well. While the promise of the Lighter 1-year Soul Support program was to empower people to live in their most sacred and powerful ways, her poorly chosen, racially insensitive branding that hit the raw wounds of many people of color.
- Pain around rejection for the color of their skin
- Ancestral pain an familial pain from a legacy of genocide, colonialism and slavery
- Daily pain from the dozens of daily micro-aggressions around race that come from living in a Western society that is designed to protect white people’s access to power and privilege, while excluding, and even pro-actively incarcerating other groups
While I’m no stranger to overt racism, bearing witness to the drama and debate around these 2 online launches, taught me much about its more insidious and hidden shadows – white privilege and white supremacy. And how it’s possible to be complicit in furthering these dynamics, without even realizing it!
This excellent article by Sara Haile-Mariam on On White Leaders Who Dehumanize Black People sums up the issues inherent in the Danielle Laporte’s program branding, as well as the white supremacy that runs through the spiritual coaching industry.
White supremacy tells white healers and teachers and leaders that the act of simply thinking about us, superficially and relying on their own sole perspectives, is enough to warrant our attention and respect and gratitude. It teaches white healers and teachers and leaders to assume that we need them. To lead us. To save us. To use us towards their own ends all in the name of “humanity”. It teaches white healers and teachers and leaders that their work?—?created in the tunnel vision of their perspectives, white washed and immersed in the wounds they are taught not to see, is worthy of us. And up until now, this has worked for them. Because we didn’t understand the truth of our worth. Because we didn’t think to demand better. Or maybe we did demand better, only to face isolation and repercussions.
Danielle Laporte later issued an apology that thanked the people of color who educated her about the racism in her branding (without elevating their work by indicating their names), rebranded, and went ahead and launched her program anyways.
I got schooled this weekend on just how deep pain runs for so many of us, specifically for Women of Colour: and the way that white privilege contributes to that. Being an agitator for that pain was never ever my intention, and for the love, I apologize for the impact. Hand on heart and with full gaze, I’m so sorry.
Some of the images and wording I combined for my Lighter program really offended some people. NOTED. HEARD. And I’m on it. Every single digital image called into question is being removed online. Done.
Moving forward we’ll be looking at everything through as many lenses as possible. Lenses that I don’t have, because of privilege, culture, and…humanness. So I’ll be asking more questions with deeper sensitivity and broader considerations. I’ve been listening, not just because I got attacked, but because I’m committed to hearing what’s happening for women. Always.
Many of the comments pointing out how she could have used her leadership and influence to go even further were not addressed. So many more comments and voices of people who tried to “show her the way” were ignored and deleted.
While I continue to learn what it truly takes to create a world that works for all of us, I too am on a journey of awakening to my own biases as well as owning the truth of my experience. Part of that journey involves having the courage to speak directly, and have difficult, uncomfortable conversations about hot-button topics. Because spiritual bypass is so much more damaging.
Here are some thoughts of how we, online influencers, can dismantle white privilege in the internet marketing industry.
First, let’s understand why it exists.
White Privilege in Internet Marketing
It is a fact that the tech industry is dominated by white men, and because of that, anything to do with online marketing tends to skew towards white and male. I’ve been in this long enough where I started to become both numb and blind to this, after seeing so many online marketing launches by white men, supported by white male affiliate partners. And as an Asian woman in a Western, English-language economy, being the only female minority in the room has been a fact of life in my entire Internet marketing career. However, this is changing, and is becoming less and less acceptable.
In the recent years, online dialogue about race and privilege has increased, along with tension and division. Uncomfortable and triggering as it may be, we need to have these discussions if we truly, as conscious, spiritually aware entrepreneurs wish to create a world that works for all.
In the conversation I witnessed demands about why the Goddess summit was so white?
The answers are simple:
- Online influencers tend to be white
- White influencers have the biggest email lists
- Anyone who you include in your summit who doesn’t have an audience consumes the same amount of production time for little to no reach
And many summit hosts, unconsciously fill their summits with white influencers, because they are looking for Speakers with reach. And so by doing so, they perpetuate white privilege in their market, because the same influencers are featured over and over again in these events, which allows them to increase their influence even more, making them sought out as ideal partners for future launches… and rinse and repeat.
How to Design Your Summits for Diversity
The success of virtual summits depends on wide cross-promotional reach. Because of history, colonialism, and economic privilege, online influencers who have audiences and email lists tend to be white. Since every interview consumes resources, it is more expensive for summit hosts to include thought leaders of color who have no email lists.
Also, summit launches are stressful! Many summit hosts are urgently using summits to create a cash injection into their business, and they might be stressed and overwhelmed with the technology, and trying to stay cash-flow positive. Diversity is the last thing on their minds. In other words, to fill your summit with people who have no email audiences means that the amount of impact & audience reach your summit has is reduced, for the same amount of work and resource consumption, in a stressful launch environment. For this reason, there is a strong pull towards favoring Speakers who have a higher likelihood of ensuring your virtual summit is successful. But to fill your summit with the same white Speakers, only perpetuates white supremacy.
How do we avoid this, and truly walk our talk of “being the change we wish to see in the world?”
1. Listen to What POC & LGBTQ Folks in Your Market Have to Say About Their Experience
Like actually listen. OK, so here’s my own personal experience of being a woman of color online, speaking publicly about race and privilege…
One of the experiences I have as an Asian woman in a white male dominated industry that has strong undercurrents of misogyny is that any time I refer to “white people”, “white supremacy” or “white privilege”, even though these words are well-defined in a number of dictionaries, it makes some white mostly men really triggered to the point where they start relentlessly trolling me online.
Because it’s uncomfortable to be referred to as an ethnic group, in the way Asians, black people, Latinos, etc have been long been referred to in Western society. And it’s uncomfortable to be told that these unpleasant, ugly currents that you’ve never in your life experienced, actually exist for other people. I get it.
The discomfort white people often have around conversations about race have been described in a the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, written by sociologist Robin DiAngelo. It addresses the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality. You can also access her much shorter PDF about white fragility here.
If conversations of race make you uncomfortable, here’s what not to do:
- Get argumentative and defensive in in someone else’s online space. How about let them have their airtime, without having to get all up an in it yourself? How about listen?
- Admonish or berate the person for speaking their truth in the way that they choose, and suggest they say things different, do things differently and feel things differently… because you are “spiritual and awakened” (and even more annoying)
This phenomenon of being chastised for speaking our truth about our lived experience of racism is something all too common for people of color, and it contributes to the pressure we have long felt exerted upon us to shut up and be grateful, when we speak speak of the hostilities we’ve experienced, let alone, demand equal opportunity, justice and inclusion.
Institutionalized discrimination exists for many groups of people, and creates different social narratives. An equally diverse range of intersectional trauma is experienced due to the complex interactions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status.
If you happen to be a member of the privileged demographic, consider using your privilege to elevate those who do not have equal access to the the same opportunities in society. Commit to listening and truly being an ally.
2. Commit to Investing What it Takes to Change Society
If truly we want to co-create a world that works for all of us, we must acknowledge that white privilege exists, then commit to dismantling this privilege. As conscious ssummit hosts must be willing to address diversity, and take on this cost and time investment, which means including MORE Speakers with lists, to balance out Speakers of color, who may not have list size, but have important, valuable perspectives to share. And accept that this will add many more hours to production time.
As an influencer with a platform, you have the power to choose whose voices you elevate. The world is full of experts, leaders, activists and changemakers who have incredible stories to tell and wisdom to share…who have no email lists. Find them, and your world will be richer for it.
3. Dismantle List Size Privilege
In the world of virtual summits, there is a fixation on influencers with big lists. However, more often than not, I’ve noticed that the bigger lists didn’t necessarily perform as well as as the smaller lists in my summits. There are many reasons as to why:
- Some big-list Speakers don’t even mail. Even if they said they would. This happens even in the “spiritual” market.
- Some Speakers mail, but only a segment of their list. Often the worst performing segment.
- Some Speakers will only do a newsletter mention and social media. This is more of a thing with bigger influencers who love to be featured on summits, but will not promote them, even if they grew their audience through virtual summits themselves. Newsletter mentions hardly get any clicks or optins.
- Bigger lists tend to have lower conversion rates. This is also a thing. Bigger lists may not have been scrubbed, so they may be bloated with dead emails. They might be filled with Russian bot emails from being list-bombed, which lowers deliverability. The list may be fatigued from so many promotions.
So, actually, size matters so much less than, ahem, performance…
So you might as well design a more diverse and interesting group of Speakers, and get over your list size envy.
4. Make Diversity Part of Your Summit Conversation
Privilege and discrimination exists in every industry. So in addition to talking with your experts about the chosen topic of your virtual summit, why not also conduct parallel conversations that raises overall awareness of social justice issues?
- Making money online and the digital divide
- Online dating and ageism
- Book publishing and male privilege
5. Give Yourself an Extra Month of Launch Time
Finally, give yourself a sanity check by adding an additional month to your pre-launch period. Because experts of color are not as visible as their white peers in many industries, you will need to spend more time researching noteworthy Speakers of color. Here’s how to find them:
- Research authors in Amazon.com
- Research podcasters of color in iTunes
- Ask influencers of color for referrals to respected colleagues
You will also need to give yourself more production time as well, because you may find yourself having to do more interviews overall, in order to maintain your ideal email reach.
Change didn’t happen overnight. Racial and gender equality is a process, and a fight worth fighting. Just know that if you do choose to elevate those whose voices deserve to be heard, before long, you will find that the change you wished to see, is already here, because you helped to create it.