What is it like to brand yourself as a person of colour?

Marketing drives our decision making. It may be deciding what to watch, what to buy, or where to make your next big career move; the art of marketing exists in a multitude of ways to try and convince the audience – you – of something. 

As a result of the rise in influencer marketing, branding yourself is a fairly new concept for the everyday human who wants to pursue a career online. It’s no secret among our generation (Millennials and younger) that branding yourself has become a quintessential part of being successful in online media creation. This goes for anything from Tiktok, to Twitch, to Instagram. You put a specific persona out there that people connect with, and whether or not that persona is true to you is second to making sure you connect with others in the way you want to. 

Online interactions bring forward an interesting facet of branding that we have only just started getting used to: it is much easier to carefully construct who you want to present to the outside world. Your opinions, thoughts, and arguments can all change and be aimed at connecting with your chosen audience – whether you believe in them or not. 

As a result, you have to understand the idea of marketing yourself. What is your message? What is your brand? Are you funny? Do you discuss politics? These are the kinds of questions you will find yourself facing, and how you decide to answer them will determine your popularity with a certain demographic and your chances of working with other brands.

There is, however, another factor that influences who your loyal audience is: the colour of your skin. 

Is it the same challenge for everybody?

Sean “Snare” Rihlamvu is a South African esports caster who has been entrenched in the gaming industry for many years. Through game commentary and hosting events, Snare has been able to make a full-time living out of talking about video games. “My life is gaming and esports, which is the best thing ever,” he said when I spoke to him. 

When it comes to branding yourself, however, he has found himself in a Catch-22 like position. “If you’re existing in the PC market, you’re primarily existing in a white and male dominated space,” he explained. “It’s very apparent when you look at me that I’m very different [from that]. It’s a lot easier if I don’t mention the fact that I’m different.” 

Snare continued to say that if he acknowledges his difference – the colour of his skin as a Black person – people start assuming that he wants to achieve success on the basis of his identity instead of his talent. “You can’t acknowledge the fact that you’re the one Black guy here. If you do so, that will inhibit other Black people coming in [to the scene]. How do you open those pathways without acknowledging that that’s what you’re explicitly doing?” he said. 

In the early stages of his career, these are the kinds of questions Snare had to contend with.  

“Once you’re here, your responsibility is not only to yourself, but to everybody else that would not enter the space if somebody like you didn’t exist,” he explained. “Many times I have come across other people of colour who say ‘just you doing you keeps me engaged and interested in this thing, it makes me want to be involved, gives me a reason to care in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise.’”

We see a positive curve in the way Snare’s, as one person, career made it possible for other people who look like him to find the inspiration to pursue their goals. Even if it just meant staying interested in the games they enjoyed – because they saw it was not only for the white male demographic that is so often associated with video games. 

Yes, this is a positive curve, but it meant that Snare found himself in a unique position that other creators at the time did not have to face: he had become a representative of the Black man. 

The responsibility of being Black 

When speaking of the ‘true self’, academics from multiple disciplines have defined it as “those identity important and phenomenally real aspects of self not often or easily expressed to others.” The internet is the perfect place to exist as the ‘true self’, for one main reason: anonymity. Even in cases where anonymity is not possible or not chosen by the person in question, existing online gives you a kind of protection from the outside world. 

In cases where the content creator or online personality in question have opinions that don’t connect with one audience, the internet is widespread enough that there will inevitably be a group of people who do connect with what the content creator is putting out there. 

Streamers, casters, and all other kinds of content creators are in the public eye to the same degree as any celebrity. Especially if you are popular, your audience grows beyond the specific demographic you are trying to reach. People start listening to what you have to say. 

The difference between the white and Black content creator, however, is the idea that Black folk tend to act as a representative for their entire race. “It makes me have to be a lot more responsible than I otherwise would be in the gaming space,” Snare said. “Having to be beyond reproach, not just for your personal brand, but for the brand of everybody who looks like you.”

“There’s a degree of honesty I am not afforded in the landscape because of the unique features of my biography,” he continued. 

This rhetoric or understanding of what it means to be Black online means you cannot merely exist as a person who has opinions anymore. The general rules of creating online stop applying to you, because you are no longer just a person, but a person of colour. You are a representative of your race. 

Historically, this has not proven to be the same case for white folk – heterosexual men, specifically. Unfortunately, in the world of online content creation and branding the self, people of colour face a much larger responsibility that goes beyond yourself. 

This, then, brings in multiple issues people of colour are faced with that are not faced in the same way as white folk: brands may only want to work with you as a token of representation, you have to be very careful about what you say, and you are pushed into a fight you may not have wanted to be part of in the first place. People of colour, overall, need to more carefully construct who they are online – lest be judged as a representative of their entire race. 

This brings us back to the original question this article poses: what is it like to brand yourself as a person of colour? In simple terms, and only the information I could put into a 1000-word article, it is more challenging. 

Essentially, this is not how it is supposed to be. We have seen massive strides in the industry as of late – specifically to do with minority groups – that have improved the way we think about these issues. These strides need to continue, however, as we are not out of the woods yet. 

We can see the edge. So we need to keep going. 

The full audio interview will be released on Apple Music & Spotify soon.

UPDATE: Listen to the full audio interview via the links below.

https://open.spotify.com/show/6WUN6SWHrjcvTnWO9qa0B7

Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/nibble-heard/id1726905876

Reference List

https://books.google.co.za/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Z_Q4DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT23&dq=branding+yourself&ots=KuCuQZDQhy&sig=oQWcY5fu1om4C0Efm6P41alzvM0&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=branding%20yourself&f=false

https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/server/api/core/bitstreams/7b89810e-dcec-4bc3-b2ef-822aec1e0eca/content

https://openscholar.dut.ac.za/bitstream/10321/3478/1/Luyanda%20Zindela%2020901523%20Dissertation%20with%20Corrections.pdf

https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/download/d79cb5f1408a4fd2d22d1e724452def798ce427a6dee256e430fa367a01b43ee/461040/Marriott_Buchanan_2014_final_author_version.pdf

Sean “Snare” Rihlamvu