For many of us who come from underrepresented communities in mainstream spaces, the impulse to accept any representation is strong.
The need to be seen might force us to credit the work of those who, whilst representing the community in some way, are not particularly good at what they do.
We commonly turn around and label said work or creator as “a [insert marginalised community] creator” or “a [insert ethnic minority] creator” and the artist or creative person is subsequently hemmed into the niche or minority group they represent.
The message from their community is in turn very clear – “we like you because it is nice to finally see a familiar face in these spaces, but we don’t want others outside the community to associate you with us” – and hence the creative’s potential is disregarded.
But don’t assume I don’t understand the temptation or pitfalls these creatives face. If you come from an underrepresented community and you start producing creative work, you [un]fortunately are received by an audience grateful for new art from one of their own.
The problem with the immediate gratification of having your work appreciated is that you lose perspective and the ability to discern the quality of your own work.
A few years down the line, you may try to enter the mainstream only to devastating consequences: Your peers outshine you and you are not as good in your craft as you thought you were.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again to young poets/content creators etc. when they first start posting white squares filled with a quirky font and meaningless jumbles of words on social media.
The hype from their echo-chamber of their peers means that the painfully obvious flaws in the work go unaddressed, and then soon it is too late even for them, as they get to a space where they have been over-praised and now any criticism becomes degradation from the infamous “haters”.
The knowledge that you have a ready and willing audience needs to be taken with responsibility, specifically a responsibility towards yourself. You are not doing yourself any favours by letting the praise of those consuming your art get to your head.
The responsibility for any artists or creative should be for their work and not for the social media accounts they will upload it to or the people who will watch it on YouTube.
But resisting that is the hardest aspect of creating work in a hyper-fast social media generation, when the value of your efforts are reduced into how visible the work is and how many accolades you can get from it.
On Instagram, failure is ugly but failure and the subsequent growth is how one gets better at their craft and how they navigate out of mediocrity.
Mediocrity is normal, as Hemingway once said, “the first draft of anything is sh*t”, but lowering your standards so that you are not able to identify when your work is mediocre is a choice, and not a good one.
It is a disservice to your craft and to the underrepresented community consuming your work.
If you set the tone low, then you are limiting not just yourself but the growth of other emerging creatives into the field and somehow, we will all end up less represented than before.