‘Who Gets to Be an Influencer?’ Exposes the Hidden Racism of Influencer Culture

‘Who Gets to Be an Influencer?’ Exposes the Hidden Racism of Influencer Culture



With how vocal most of its leaders are, it feels as if there would be little mystery left in the world of influencers. But as the New York Times is exploring, that’s not the case at all. Who Gets to Be an Influencer? is a shocking dive into the racial biases prevalent in social media, and shows the surprisingly deep sides of its subjects.

Part of FX’s The New York Times Presents series, Who Wants to Be an Influencer? focuses on the creation of the Collab Crib in Atlanta.  For years, social media creators have formed houses together, renting out spaces largely in LA and filling them with popular and on-the-rise content creators. The idea is as simple as it is smart. If a person is popular alone, a group of popular people living together is bound to only get more popular, in the Big Brother model of entertainment.

What’s rarely acknowledged? These houses are predominantly white.

That’s the dynamic members of Collab Crib are trying to upset by starting their own house for Black creators. And from the first moment these eight creators enter, the stakes are high. There are constant group meetings dissecting Instagram likes and TikTok views. Members put their heads together and plan out prank wars with the intensity of executives drafting an end of the quarter presentation. There are brutal one-on-ones where members are frankly told they need to up the quality of their content. As silly as this intensity may initially seem, it makes sense. As one member explains, if a creator can’t become a major influencer within 90 days, it’s probably never going to happen for them.

Any one of these conversations should be interesting to anyone who has rolled their eyes at influencer culture. Exploring the hidden depths of something that appears simplistic is always interesting. But that’s without getting into the prejudice these creators experience on a minute-by-minute basis. One of the better examples of this isn’t the many conversations about shadow bans or even the honest discussion the house has about racism. It’s Kaelyn Kastle’s hair. As the music and social media star explains, the only reason why she died her hair pink was to stand out in Instagram’s algorithm, which prioritizes lighter, more colorful images over darker ones. Kastle mentions that she doesn’t feel great with her hair and that she wants to dye her hair back to black. But she won’t. She’s too afraid that the algorithm will penalize her. Eventually Kastle does end up dying her hair, but her hand-wringing shows just how every detail of this job is harder for a Black influencer.

It’s Noah Webster who sums up this unfair dichotomy best. “There’s so many people who could have the potential to go viral, and they weren’t given that opportunity,” Webster says. “The reason that this house is so significant is because on social media Black people haven’t got what they deserved yet.”

In its own small way Who Gets to Be an Influencer? rewrites the known influencer narrative. Assumptions that these content creators are shallow are blown out of the water thanks to stories like Kaychelle, who wants to be successful to make her later little sister proud. The idea that this job is easy is challenged by Koolasoneil, an influencer who works tirelessly and excitedly to create new dance challenges. And the myth that influencing is a sort neutralizing ground, a way to avoid the prejudices and racism of a typical career path, is exposed by the documentary as a whole. Who Gets to Be an Influencer? isn’t just a fascinating take on little understood world. It’s a question we need to be asking more often.

Watch Who Gets to Be an Influencer? on FX on Hulu





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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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