As more young people move away from mainstream entertainment,1 many of us have hoped that social media would level the playing field and result in greater visibility of racially and ethnically diverse voices. In reality, however, anti-Blackness that exists in the real world appears to be mirrored in the digital space.
For young women who love women (WLW), social media can be an important way to be seen and heard. But for Black WLW, who can frequently experience racism, sexism, and heterosexism,2 this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Bias against Black WLW in social media
Jade Fox, a Black lesbian YouTuber, released a video called “We Need to Talk: The Race Issue Between Lesbian Creators” where she discusses the disparity in viewership, sponsorship, and support for Black compared to White lesbian YouTubers. She addresses the structural and social biases, including algorithms, that result in greater exposure of White WLW to the detriment of Black WLW. She also critiques the unwillingness of White lesbians to give voice to the invisibility of Black WLW in the online space or collaborate with Black lesbian YouTubers, choosing instead to collaborate with other White lesbians. Not only does this hurt Black YouTubers, but it also makes it harder for adolescent Black WLW to see other WLW who look like them online.
This silencing is not specific to one social media platform. A quick search on Instagram for lesbian, lesbian love, wlw, or sapphic pulls up photos of overwhelmingly White or White-passing couples. Racially biased algorithms bury most Black WLW couples on Instagram3 and implicit bias can prevent users from questioning why they see little diversity in their Instagram feeds.
Lack of representation and its effect on mental health
The ongoing legacy of racism and sexism in media has resulted in few positive representations of Black women in media,4 let alone Black WLW, leaving Black LGBTQ+ youth to struggle to find role models that represent them.5 And this invisibility and structural bias may be having a negative effect on mental health. A recent study finds that 4 in 5 Black and African American LGBTQ+ youth usually feel depressed or down; 4 in 5 usually feel worried, nervous, or panicked; and 7 in 10 usually feel worthless or hopeless.5 Culturally competent mental health services that address the unique struggles faced by Black LGBTQ+ youth are scarce.5 But if we are able to increase social media representation, Black WLW might be better able to see more positive images of themselves, and this may improve self-esteem while also combating stigma.6
How to support Black WLW online
We can all make a difference. No matter your race, sexuality, or gender, think about diversifying your feed and following accounts that highlight Black WLW. This will help fight the Instagram and YouTube algorithms that facilitate implicit bias. You will get to see amazing content creators and their stories. Here are some great accounts to get you started:
- Instagram: @bridenavy, @blacklesbianmagic, @mrsandmrs_, @black.lesbian.love, @blackqueerjoy
- YouTube: Jade Fox, Tee Noir, CharlyCheer, Kaylah Cupcake, Shereen Jenkins, Domo Wilson
This post was written in collaboration with Dania Felix.