Why Are Black Women Influencers Attacked for Flaunting Luxury?
“If he’s wasting your time; if he’s not getting you a Birkin; if he’s not paying your bills, throw that n***a back to the streets. Ok?”
Saweetie uttered these words after sipping from a red cup and dancing with her boyfriend Quavo (one third of the insanely successful group Migos) on his Instagram Live. She was feeling herself, promoting her single “Back to the Streets,” and playing up her own rapper persona. When I saw it, it felt playful and facetious. The internet didn’t take it that way.
She received backlash from women and men alike who thought she was setting the bar too high for what women should expect in relationships. They thought she was out of touch with the realities of working and middle class Americans, especially in a pandemic. Men in particular claimed that she was promoting materialistic gold diggers and represented everything that is wrong with “today’s” Black women.
Black women and luxury combine for a volcanic debate that erupts whenever a Black woman sets a standard about what she thinks she deserves. It happened on Twitter when a Black woman agreed that $200 was a reasonable amount for someone to spend on a date. It happens whenever a high profile divorce hits the news cycle and alimony or child support are part of the deal.
At best, the onslaught of opinions across social media platforms brings up valid questions about materialism and consumption, but at worst, brings out the misogynoir.
This time, it was the great Birkin debate that Saweetie set off. At best, the onslaught of opinions across social media platforms brings up valid questions about materialism and consumption, but at worst, brings out the misogynoir. Either way, Black women are expected to bear the brunt of the morality and ethics surrounding it.
I was curious to hear from Black influencers in the luxury space. Unlike celebrities, whose lavish lifestyles are expected as a result of their wealth, influencers tend to be more accessible and relatable. But unlike wealthy Black women who might choose to fly (private, of course) under the radar in their Louboutins, content creators are still at the mercy of the public, with their comments and DMs open. They also have an insider perspective on the industry as brand collaborators and ambassadors. They’re essentially in the trenches, and they confirmed my assumptions and some of my worst fears about how the rest of the world feels about Black women with nice stuff.
A common theme from just about every Black woman I spoke with was an invasive curiosity that follows any display of luxury, even from supporters. Jocelyn Partee’s YouTube channel is a soothing collection of luxury fashion hauls, travel vlogs, beauty routines, and more recently, videos on how to “level up” your lifestyle. She tells me over the phone people are often obsessed with how she’s secured such a life for herself. “How did you buy this? How did you do this? People are always trying to figure out how Black women are able to do things or get things,” she says. It’s not enough to see the fruits of Black women’s labor—audiences want to know exactly what seeds were sown to grow them.
“Do you know how many comments I get about who I'm screwing to get the things that I have?” —Allyiah Gainer
That scrutiny doesn’t end with a third degree about what Black women do for a living and how much it pays them, either. Allyiah Gainer—known as AllyiahsFace on YouTube, where she just hit 500,000 subscribers—is frank when I speak to her over Zoom, about one common assumption being made. “Do you know how many comments I get about who I'm screwing to get the things that I have?” she asks. This echoes another of Partee’s observations. “Who are you dating?” is one of the questions often thrown at her underneath haul videos. This line of questioning reveals a troubling societal belief: Black women aren’t qualified or credible bon vivants. Seeing a Black woman dripped in thousands of dollars worth of clothing and accessories often leads observers to think that someone else bestowed the status on them, usually in return for sex or their affections.
To put it plainly, in 2020 people are still associating lavish Black women with the same immorality that is falsely projected onto sex workers.
Ironically, the most vocal critics of Black women in luxury appear to be men. Some of the more violent and toxic backlash seems to come from those with gender privilege. Partee says that, “Men, specifically Black men, take my video and do reviews on my video where they basically try to come up with reasons why they don't like me. They [also] come up with all these reasons why women shouldn't listen to influencers like me.” She suggested that these men could be harboring fears that Saweetie’s sentiments represent a growing lack of ethics from women: “There are a lot of men thinking that women are demanding that you take his money and run!” In other words, Black women publicly raising their standards get accused of trickery. It’s a very different response than the outpouring of adoration and praise that this white woman received when a TikToker asked her what she did for a living and she responded: “I’m married.”
Kaylan Alex says that it’s a challenge for Black women to work with luxury brands because stereotypes have made it so that we’re “judged as not being fit to represent [them].”
It’s also possible that Black women in luxury is a fraught topic because the institutions that provide and define luxury themselves are anti-Black. “The type of influencers that I find luxury brands tend to work with are girls who are high fashion,” Gainer explains. “High fashion, in this case, is often associated with whiteness. Partee said that she notices white influencers getting more “opportunities to work and grow because they're being promoted and reached out to by certain brands, and unless you have a following of half a million then it's really hard to get your foot in the door.”
Kaylan Alex, who was introduced to luxury goods at a young age, now runs a YouTube channel where she reviews designer items. She says that it’s a challenge for Black women to work with luxury brands because stereotypes have made it so that we’re “judged as not being fit to represent [them].” The elitism in fashion has been documented by Black fashion editors, and influencers are also feeling the brunt of it. Perhaps the not-so-secret exclusivity that luxe labels are known for has simply trickled down, so that the masses have become just as suspicious of non-white people taking up space.
“I believe more people need to see Black women with the best that life has to offer because, historically, we have been given the scraps. It is a revolutionary act to live well as a proud Black woman.” —Jasmine Warren
Luckily, Black women are definitely pushing back on these barriers and demanding that they, too, deserve to have luxury experiences and lifestyles. Jasmine Warren started her Instagram page Luxurious Black women with this in mind. “I followed a lot of luxury pages for style tips and noticed that there were no Black women featured. Even when wealthy and incredibly stylish black women would tag the [brand’s] pages they would be ignored,” she shares over email. Now she curates images of Black women decked out in the finest threads at some of the most exclusive places around the globe. “I believe more people need to see Black women with the best that life has to offer because, historically, we have been given the scraps. It is a revolutionary act to live well as a proud Black woman.”
This revolutionary movement is one reason a video by Moe Digga went viral in the wake of the great Birkin debate. “Why do yall hate when Black girls have nice things?” the clip starts.
Moe tells me that she made the video because she was “frustrated” by all of the vitriol being hurled at Saweetie and women like her for simply enjoying the pleasures of their lives. “A lot of the time Black women are told to be silent about their wins, about the luxury, or anything they're attaining that's not sorrow or misery,” she says.
She’s right. Black women are expected to be the moral gatekeepers. When we debate ethical consumption, materialism, and even insensitivity in a pandemic, it is the actions and belongings of Black women that we hold up to the harshest light. There isn’t nearly enough interrogation of the culture from which it was spawned: one where Black women are constantly asked to be selfless, to shrink themselves, and to settle for the sake of community for everyone else. It’s easier to call out Cardi B for pondering whether or not to buy an $88,000 bag than it is to question an industry that makes and sells items that cost so much in the first place.
If Black women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, it begs the question: How much do we really have to pay for luxury?