Hey Brown Girl, Get Paid

Think about your favorite outdoor social media accounts. In addition to great content you’ve probably noticed a few #sponsored #ads on Instagram. Maybe your favorite women in the outdoors podcast is brought to you by an outdoor retailer. If you’re anything like me your favorite accounts champion the contributions of Women of Color, Queer Folx and people living with a disability. Does sponsored content make their message any less valid?

Recently, outdoor diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activist, Marinel De Jesus, wrote an open letter on the “state of the DEI culture unfolding in the industry.” Similar to the legion of angry white male detractors who dismiss diversity initiatives as trendy (and thus inauthentic) she had a lot of negative things to say about “artificial DEI.”

De Jesus also wrote about the “compromised positions of various entities in the industry” and lectured emergent activists on the importance of not succumbing to "brand money, influence, [or] mentorship.”

We disagree.

Grassroots DEI efforts have seen exponential growth in recent years partly due to the outsized reach of social media. They include adventure athletes like Melise Edwards, Mirna Valerio and Ayesha McGowan as well as influencers like Ambreen Tariq and Karen Ramos. Many of these “branded” athletes and influencers are notably outspoken on social justice issues. They aren’t silenced by brands or industry money as De Jesus implies. Then there are affinity groups such as Adaptive Climbing Group and Brown Girls Climb which continue to carve out a space—with support from outdoor brands—for People of Color and for people with disabilities to feel represented in the Outdoors.

DEI athletes, influencers, activists and non-profits may have very different short term goals for brand partnerships; ranging from brand ambassadorships that support training goals to brand affiliations that will enable them to promote a book, develop a podcast, hold an event, or build capacity. All of these are worthwhile efforts that are helping to grow our #DiversifyOutdoors community.

Here’s what they have in common. Many of the efforts in the past two years have been led by Women of Color, including Black and Brown women entrepreneurs.

Here’s our advice.

Brown Girl get paid.

There is nothing about your skin color, gender or sexual orientation that precludes you from making smart decisions about which brands you choose to affiliate with.

There is nothing about your skin color, gender or sexual orientation that makes you less capable of making these decisions on your own or on behalf of your non profit or company.

This doesn’t make you “compromised” as Marinel’s letter suggests, by “for profit scenarios” or “artificial DEI.” We’re challenging the assumption that POC engaged in outdoor DEI who don’t work for free are somehow compromised.

We’re not. We are athletes, non-profit directors and entrepeneurs making smart decisions about our financial futures while never losing sight of the social issues and communities that motivate us.

No one would credibly argue that white women engaged in gender equality efforts are somehow compromised by pursuing brand sponsorships or financial support. Women of Color are no different.

Today we’re challenging the widespread assumption that People of Color should do outdoor diversity, equity and inclusion work for free—just because it’s an important social cause. It is important. And we’re still charging.

Companies are not People. They represent brands. You are not expected to work for brands for free. Any interaction you have with them is likely one of three things: marketing, consulting or sponsorship. You should be paid for all of those.

Does that mean the movement will be perfect? No. We’ll address shortcomings and still hold the outdoor industry accountable. We’ll also uplift small businesses owned and managed by People of Color, Queer Folx and People with Disabilities by the same brand affiliations and sponsorships.

We’re not “sold out”, we’re making space and promoting the same values that brought us here. We’re recognizing that our community is diverse with diverse goals and drives and efforts. And we value that diversity. We’re keeping content as accessible as possible for the tens of thousands of you who make up the #DiversifyOutdoors community.

Brown Girl, get paid. Take your idea and grow something out of it. We’ll be here to support you along the way!


Disclosure: The author is the Senior Editor of outdoor diversity blog, Melanin Base Camp and the Founder of DiversifyOutdoors.com. She has zero brand affiliations to disclose. She does feel strongly about People of Color being compensated for their work.