If you’re not following two of the most popular activists on Instagram, you might not have noticed, but last week the world of activist influencers imploded. After a Twitter discourse about Women Don’t Owe You Pretty author Florence Given saw some compare her book to Chidera Eggerue’s (aka The Slumflower) What A Time To Be Alone, Chidera went public with feelings she had seemingly been holding in a while.
‘We have spoken and she's aware of my feelings towards her book looking and sounding a lot like my already published works,’ Chidera replied to a tweet calling out Florence for ‘whitewashing’ a discourse Chidera started. ‘I do wish her the best and hope we can use this situation to uplift and support Black and people of colour writers/creators who are contributing to feminism in a way that isn't always regarded or rewarded, and hopefully we can move past the comparisons.’
What followed was a series on Instagram Stories from Chidera, stating that she was uncomfortable with a lot of the language Florence used in her book and how similar it was in both copy and illustration style to her own. She had felt this for months she said - so much so she asked for her endorsement of Florence’s book to be taken off the front cover – but kept it in out of her own
Going through the pages of both books, she accused Florence of ‘gentrifying’ her work. Most notably, she pointed to Florence’s acknowledgement page, where she thanks Black women for teaching her about ‘prettiness, desirability, privilege, unconscious bias and systems of oppression.’
‘My understanding of these topics would not have been possible without the work of the following women, who I am dedicating this book to,’ Florence wrote, listing Chidera second in a list of nine Black women.
‘Black women did it first,’ Chidera said reacting to the page. ‘Do we get recognition? No. Black women continue to pave the way, set the trends, and set the pace. This book is generating wealth. Black women’s ideas generate wealth for white people. But that wealth doesn’t go to our community.’
As commentary around the comparisons continued online, many pointed out that neither Chidera nor Florence are the first to discuss the narratives raised in either of their books and questioned Chidera’s authority to speak on copying others ideas when she has been accused of stealing content directly from sex workers herself.
But whether you can point the finger back at Chidera or not, there’s a larger issue at play. Chidera has suffered real world consequences purely for speaking her truth and attempting to call out what she says is racism and white supremacy in action.
The same day Chidera voiced her concerns to the press, Chidera’s contract with her management company Diving Bell Group – who managed both Chidera and Florence – was ended with immediate effect. According to Chidera, she had terminated her contract with Diving Bell Group on October 17th but was enjoying an amicable three-month notice period before she went public with her claims. Their contract should’ve ended on January 17th, which Chidera saying they had worked on projects together very recently, but was immediately ceased in one very short email.
‘After two successful years of working together, in October this year Chidera terminated her management agreement with us and we parted ways amicably. We continue to wish her the best,’ Diving Bell Group wrote in a statement.
Prior to their statement, Florence had also released her own in response to Chidera’s. ‘My book is approximately 40% original illustrations, 40% memoir material (my own lived experiences) and the other 20% is feminist theory and concepts that have existed for decades and are cited throughout,’ she said. ‘My acknowledgements page was dedicated to Black women for bringing my own white and desirability privileges into my consciousness…I wanted to create a space in my book that encouraged the people who would read my work to discover, support and pay for theirs too.’
She went on to say she has re-distributed money whenever she receives it and had already donated ‘a significant portion’ of her book advance to organisations that support Black liberation. ‘I have always planned to do the same when I receive my first royalties payment which won’t be until 2021.’
The 12-page Instagram story statement delves further into the criticism, particularly a harrowing issue raised by Chidera whereby Florence’s book was appearing before hers in the ‘Google Ads’ reel when you search ‘Chidera Eggerue’ online.
According to Chidera, who received messages from people who pay to appear in that particular section of Google search results, a company or organisation that promotes Florence’s book would have to be bidding on ‘Chidera Eggerue’ as a search term to receive a result that high. Her name then was quite literally encourages clicks to purchase Florence’s book, as where terms like ‘Black feminist books’ and ‘What a time to be alone’.
"Google 'Chidera Eggerue' or 'Black Feminist Books' and you'll see Florence Given's book appear first in the Ad section"
‘My publishing team have confirmed with me that we have not promoted the Google results where my book is coming up when people search for Chidera’s name,’ Florence said. ‘We absolutely should be critiquing the systems that prioritise and catapult white women’s work even when you search for a Black authors name.’
Google Ad results when you search for Chidera Eggerue's name or 'Black feminist books'...
Since Florence’s statement, Chidera has shared sentiments on Twitter stating it ‘gives no meaningful apology or commitment to repair/reform and displaces the blame away from the white woman, serving only to gaslight her victim and save face.’
But while the women share statement back and forth, the real enemy – at least according to Twitter – is a publishing industry that roots out young feminist women, recruits them based on the size of their Instagram following and positions them as experts in a field purely based off of their - relatively short - lived experiences as oppose to extensive academic research.
For now, the conversation between Florence and Chidera forges on. Just this afternoon, Chidera shared the conversation she and Florence had at the time Florence’s book was published when she first raised the issue. Noting Florence’s admission that she switched publishers as she was ‘aware of having too much proximity to you’, Chidera stated ‘you wouldn’t have to worry about having too much proximity if you weren’t copying me.’
She also pointed to Florence saying she hired a diversity reader to ensure she wasn’t missing any ‘blind spots’ – admitting she has many. ‘If you need a diversity reader, you need to pass the mic,’ Chidera said.. Ironically, quite the mic drop.