Three Overlooked But Clutch Ways to Build Power and Influence
Ivy Park, Beyonce’s clothing line, dropped on an average day of the week with over average results. She’s like a black ninja, creeping silently onto our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds to scissor kick us in the face with whatever project she’s been diligently building between keeping her body 365 days summer ready with 10 mile runs on the beach.
Bey’s influence is stealthy, to the point where her marketing team probably takes six month vacations because she could slip a fart at an after hours Oscar party and people would bottle the essence into mason jars, call it the "Beylixir of Youth," and sell it on E-Bay. It’s like reverse psychology on a diabolical level.
Creators Have Power (lots of it)
Artists and creators weilded power throughout history. Cave drawings are key sources of information used by scientists and anthropologists to piece together the lives of ancient peoples. Hieroglyphs let us know that Egyptians lived pretty dope lives (with lots of mummification). Art in all forms captures the feelings, social mores, attitudes, and lifestyles of its time.
What is the source of a creator’s power? This question peaked my curiosity sharply after seeing these Beyomenons (a phenomenon started by Beyonce), so I conducted a very scientific survey, asking 15 friends which artists and creators of color inspire them and why.
Some initial responses ranged from, “This is such a hard question” to “I got a list so long, I need to cut it down and get back to you.” 80 names were shared in total with various reasons as to why each artist made the cut.
There were a few repeats of famous people (including Beyonce of course) shared by these friends, but what struck me most was a majority of the artists/creators mentioned were not megastar names, and three common traits started to emerge as I listened to who people felt were influential and impactful.
Power = something bigger than being big
This long list consists of writers, painters, visual artists, new media content producers, and podcasters. They all had different messages and talents but shared three common themes as a source of their influence, that any individual can apply in their own lives to increase their power and influence.
1. They wear social justice on their sleeves
When Marvin Gaye once crooned, “You know we've got to find a way, to bring some lovin' here today” on his famous "What’s going On" track, he didn’t realize his song would apply decades later. Our world is still plagued with massive problems dressed in isms - classism, sexism, racism, colonialism to name a few. I found more than one mention of a creator being admired for highlighting social issues:
Example A) Singer: Asa
Reason: "She's Nigerian, her music is socially and politically conscious, and she sings in Yoruba."
Example B) Writer: Durga Chew-Bose
Reason: "She's a woman of color who writes about gender, race, and identity in a way I strongly identify with."
Example C) Entrepreneur: Casey Gerald
Reason: "Amazing storyteller who pushes for people to question and doubt the conventions around them."
Many artists were selected for the simple fact that they have something to say that can shift society around them for the better. There’s power in taking a stand for something. It might not bring millions of dollars or instant fame, but can be a source of influence and invaluable purpose. People remember and follow individuals that have a strong point of view, especially if that view is to fight for the betterment of society.
2. They are unabashedly proud of where they come from
We’re attracted to ourselves in the most non-creepy way. We want to see ourselves reflected and celebrated in the media because it helps us solidify our self concept and experiences in the world. Most people of color see far more negative than positive images splashed across TV, magazines, radio, or even worse, no images at all (#oscarssowhite didn’t start for shits and giggles). Creators who put new narratives on the map, or had a particular background that a person could relate with, were deemed inspirational:
Example A) Designer: Andrea Pippins
Reason: "She celebrates other women of color and gives insightful advice on creativity and goal setting."
Example B) Chef: Roy Choi
Reason: "Chef focused on immersing community into his food and his companies."
Example C) Artist: Jacob Lawrence
Reason: "Passionately captured the African American experience on canvas."
3. They disrupt things (a.k.a. fuck shit up)
Superman has captured millions of hearts not only because he looks great in a skintight onesie, but because he represents what we all secretly hope for -- being able to run at the speed of light and stop evil and tear things up when we get disrespected.
Convention maintains stability, but at the detriment of people who don’t neatly fit into whatever boxes and labels are deemed acceptable. Creators who disrupted convention through their art, either through unexpected approaches or by entering into spaces they are typically barred from, were seen as sources of influence:
Example A) Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Reason: "For bringing Hip Hop to Broadway and making history with Hamilton."
Example B) Painter/Artist: Kehinde Wiley
Reason: "His life-like portraits are INSANE! Love how he juxtaposes royal-like poses with urban folk of color surrounded by colorful backgrounds."
Example C) Tech Founder: Angela Benton
Reason: "Single mom who taught herself coding and created an incubator in Silicon Valley that caters to minority tech innovators. Woman after my own heart."
What’s this got to do with me?
Every person of influence starts as a no-name nobody in no-name land with no fans, Twitter followers, or endorsement deals on cereal boxes. People who inspire us most may not even make it to stardom.
Social consciousness, community, and disruption can bring power in ways that can’t be measured. By cultivating each of those things into your own life, you may begin to see how your own influence will begin to grow, inspiring people around you in positive ways that you may not even be aware of.
Feel free to send me coupons for Ivy Park clothing if you pass them on your way to greatness.