Dear Influencers, It’s OK To Pass The Mic
This week's newsletter: Instagram activist and illustrator Danielle Coke of @ohhappydani sets an example of the power of influence in a time of crisis.
Danielle Coke is a 25-year-old illustrator from Atlanta who runs the popular Instagram account @ohhappydani. She started her account last year to represent Black history through visual arts, and she said she’s been “blown away” by how her posts are now reaching an audience far beyond Black Americans.
She told me “hundreds of thousands of people have appeared out of nowhere” this week to follow her account and share her art.
Accounts like hers continue to grow at a rapid rate as non-Black Americans look for resources to reckon with centuries of pain and systemic oppression. In last week’s newsletter, we featured Chicago artist and activist Shirien Damra, who said she saw her account followers grow from 1,700 to 171,000 in a year, with much of that growth coming from the past two weeks.
“Racism in America isn't a new conversation — it's hundreds of years old — but the amount of people who are opening their eyes and hearts to the reality of the injustices we face is quite the sight to see. It feels like we're on a new wave,” said Danielle.
Danielle is a full-time illustrator; until recently, she never considered herself to be an influencer. Recently, she’s seen the power of sharing her message online. She said she “can’t deny” she has important influence.
However, Danielle wants her followers to go beyond sharing one of her graphics. She is now using her Instagram account, which has over 352,000 followers, to host informational livestreams about actionable steps any citizen can take to engage in the movement.
In one recent video, Danielle walked viewers through how to have empathy — something that's both complicated and simple.
“Think of something really really horrible, something that if someone did it you’d be absolutely disgusted. … I would hope that we can categorize racism in some of those same categories,” she said.
While a lesson like this may seem rudimentary, it is necessary.
In the last week, I kept a lazy list of links that I called People Doing Weird Shit. Whenever someone did what I thought was either a manifestation of ignorance or anxiety about participating in a protest, I filed it. I’m not going to make this newsletter about that. I’ve written plenty of entries now about influencers doing Weird Shit.
(If you need a quick summary in just the past few days: Hot people wrote long pieces of prose about racism to hot photos of themselves, Glee’s Heather Morris made a two-part interpretative dance [?], a photographer who’s gone viral previously tried to pull this faux inspiring stunt, a woman used blackface makeup to speak out against anti-Blackness [??], all the brands are suddenly speaking out when they’ve stayed mum for centuries, and Elon Musk’s mom shared a sartorial photo shoot in the name of #BlackLivesMatter.)
This is a quarter of the list I have. It’s baffling, infuriating, and sometimes very funny — but insensitivity is something that can be confronted and resolved if you’re willing to listen and learn.
And Danielle is open to teaching.
“For a lot of people, this is their first time speaking up about issues like this. You will probably make mistakes along the way, and that's completely normal,” she said. “It's when we acknowledge these mistakes, apologize for them, and seek continued growth [that] we can truly bring about real change.”
Her graphics have helped make some of these tricky topics more approachable and actionable.
Danielle has also taken it upon herself to hand-hold some of us through the exact kinds of action we can take to support the cause. This includes how to have hard conversations with family members and children about systemic racism, how to change the kinds of media you’re consuming, and how to hold your workplace or other businesses accountable.
Her tips are both accessible and compassionate.
“I have ... pretty simple, straightforward tips. First and foremost, I’d say to be honest. Recognize you might not say the perfect thing. That’s OK. Create the space for accepting that there will be imperfections,” she says in her recent video. “Be open. Share how you’re feeling and be prepared to hear perspectives that are different from yours.”
One more practical way of taking action, Danielle advises, is to “diversify [the] content and media” you consume and diversify the products you buy and businesses you support.
“What are you purchasing? Your kids — the toys they’re playing with, the video games. Do all the characters look the same?” she asked.
Most importantly, and this is coming up over and over because it’s hard but paramount to do, “center” the actions and conversations around the “plight of Black people and the issues they’re currently facing,” she said. Do not frame the conversations around your own personal brand, as many influencers are so used to doing.
For non-Black influencers who have millions of followers on their platforms, Danielle asks that they wield their tremendous influence by hosting voices of Black Americans — and not speak for them or yourself. Your white guilt is heard, but it’s not central.
In what I thought was a nice example of how to wield white influence, beloved celebrity and actor Leslie Jordan recently invited an activist to momentarily take over his platform to speak to some of these issues.
“Staying silent is no longer an option, and influencers with large audiences have a sphere of impact that I will never be able to tap into,” Danielle added. “We all have a responsibility to condemn oppression and make a change.”