Somewhere amid the basketball wives throwing bottles, acclaimed actresses portraying downtrodden maids, and the usual suspects gracing the covers of black lifestyle magazines lies the ambiguous representation of black women in the media. And while household names like Essence, Jet, Heart & Soul, and Ebony have worked for decades to counter questionable images with positive alternatives, Facebook pages have allowed for the immediate creation of new communities that empower black women with images and words in a mere click.
Facebook destinations like Orijin Culture provide black women with sumptuous fashion shots reflecting themselves that are far more glamorous than those found in average glossies. Healthy Black Women and Girls, with over 111,ooo likes, promotes images of Black women participating in sport, exercise, and healthful living, while also helping page participants achieve their own health goals.
Then there are much smaller niche communities, such as DarkSkinned Women <3, that address pressing issues such as color discrimination in an immediate and ongoing way that mainstream publications cannot match.
“The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice!,” said one female user on DarkSkinned Women <3 when complementing a beautiful image of a woman with deep brown skin. DarkSkinned Women <3, like many popular community pages that appeal to African-American women, posts content consisting mostly of stunning imagery that reinforces self-esteem. It seems like a simple formula, but it’s making a big impact.
Could more black women be turning to relatively small Facebook groups, like Model TV Africa, for style and life advice as opposed to traditional media?
“I believe that spaces on the Internet where black women gather in cyberspace are indeed competing with traditional lifestyle magazines,” Noliwe Rooks, author of 2004’s Ladies’ Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture That Made Them, told theGrio.
An associate professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University, Rooks has found that black women across generations are increasingly logging into their accounts in order to get the support, advice, nurturing and sense of community that was once fulfilled by magazines.
The creators of these hubs of black camaraderie noticed this opportunity to target African-Americans in an innovative way — and seized it. “I saw this new generation of social media sites as a way to reach people we’ve never been able to reach before,” Kumi Rauf, founder of I Love Being Black (ILBB), told theGrio.
While not specifically targeting women, ILBB is an interesting case study of where this social media development may go. With 6,122,061 likes to be exact as of publication time, I Love Being Black is the largest black-owned Facebook page in the world. Placed in a larger context, ILLB’s audience has more than twice the number of likes as the Facebook pages of BET, TV One, Essence, Tom Joyner, Black Voices, Black Enterprise, Ebony, and Jet combined. This astronomical audience was gained in a mere four years since it launched in 2008. On any given day, ILBB showcases a plethora of affirming photographs and images, all of which feature a diverse array of locations and people from the African diaspora.
“We try to keep our news posts either positive or informative,” said Rauf. “This works well for us because it’s like a breath of fresh air to see this type of content in the news concerning black people.”
Yet, more impressive than the audience size is the audience engagement that specialized pages like ILBB, Vintage Black Glamour, Black Women with Real Black Hair and Black Women “Do” Workout! have been able to generate per post, in comparison to more reputable media brands. A page with less than 20,000 likes can often see up to ten percent of its base comment or like every post, which is considered to be a very high rate of social media engagement by professionals in the social media business.
“It’s not about the number of how many people like you,” socio-economic digital analyst, author and commentator Lauren DeLisa Coleman told theGrio about these pages’ influence. Coleman studies the impact of digital platforms as they intersect with cultural behavior and commercial endeavors. “These niche outlets have a different measure of success.”