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Women of color a growing force as mom influencers on parenting issues

The multibillion-dollar world of sleep training guides, toddler activity ideas, breastfeeding tips and all things parenting traditionally has been overwhelmingly white.

Kisha Gulley and her son Santana, 5. The Phoenix resident is an Instagram influencer and blogger who makes money from that.
Kisha Gulley and her son Santana, 5. The Phoenix resident is an Instagram influencer and blogger who makes money from that.
Matt York / AP

PHOENIX — Kisha Gulley was once kicked out of a Facebook group for mothers with autistic children after a contentious debate she felt was racial.

Over and over, she clashed with the white-dominated groups she’d sought out for support as a new mom.

So Gulley, who is Afro Latina, started her own parenting blog and social media accounts. It’s now a source of income for her.

The multibillion-dollar world of sleep training guides, toddler activity ideas, breastfeeding tips and all things parenting traditionally has been overwhelmingly white. Parenting book jackets feature mostly white faces. The so-called mom influencers that brands choose to advertise their products have, until recently, also been mostly white.

That’s left a hole for women of color — especially new moms — looking for culturally relevant parenting advice and products.

Increasingly, they’re taking matters into their own hands.

“If I can’t find it, that’s when we have to start creating that for ourselves,” says Gulley, who lives in Phoenix. “I knew I couldn’t be the only person that had these questions.”

When she learned her firstborn son was autistic, Gulley dug for any resources that might help her family but found she still had questions many experts couldn’t answer.

How, for example, could she comb through her son’s thickly-textured hair without triggering his sensory issues? And what’s a good sunscreen to use on dark skin that doesn’t leave white residue?

It was a frustrating time that climaxed in the Facebook group when she felt that several white women were dismissive and rude to a Black mom seeking advice about how to talk to her family about her child’s autism diagnosis. She says the women didn’t grasp that, in some communities of color, older generations can be apprehensive about autism and tend to think issues come down to behavior and discipline. Gulley defended the other mom and was kicked out of the group.

Soon after, she built her own social media presence and now makes a living from it, making more now, she says, than she did as a flight attendant for 15 years.

Similarly, Stacey Ferguson struggled to find online forums and communities that resonated with her experiences as a Black mother. Ferguson, a lawyer who is now a business owner, co-founded Blogalicious with two other women 12 years ago, helping women of color monetize and build their blogs.

The first Blogalicious conference drew 177 people. By the time Ferguson ended them in 2017, 500 people had attended each year.

“What we were really surprised about was that a lot of brands were really interested to come and meet our community,” Ferguson says.

Mom bloggers have evolved into Instagram influencers. Carefully curated images accompany posts with tips on how to get a baby to sleep or teach them to feed themselves. Often, influencers advertise products they say moms might find helpful.

The trend was started mostly by white women and brands that sought them out. Ferguson says it’s much more diverse now, with brands working to reach a wide range of parents.

Still, marketing budgets are more limited for multicultural targets than for general advertising, Ferguson says. Traditionally, white women have been paid to market to general audiences. That means a white mom could make more money marketing to an audience of all ethnicities and races than a woman who aims specifically to, say, Latina moms.

Some marketing expers say brands and companies collectively spend billions of dollars a year on advertising or sponsoring through mom influencers.

Brands are catching up to the Latino and Black American markets, says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University in New York who says the parenting influencer world has been dominated by white women because they’ve been the majority in the past but that he’s increasingly seeing an influx of Latinas, Black and Asian American women.

Jacqueline Hernandez Lewis of Long Island, New York, started blogging nine years ago as a law student and military wife. After she became a mom, Hernandez Lewis, 33, says she wanted to find a place where Latinas and other moms of color felt empowered. When she went back to work after the first of her three children, she says it was tough to adapt. She wanted to spend more time at home while still making money.

Hernandez Lewis made $25 from her first sponsored post. Now, she says she makes $700 to $3,000 a post while also working full time.

Her recent Instagram posts feature ads for a line of Spanish-language books being republished by Disney Books, baby wipes and Poise, which makes pads that postpartum women can use.

“We deserve to be represented on the business side,” Hernandez Lewis says. “There’s brands that haven’t been as inclusive as I’d hoped. But a lot of brands are shifting and becoming more inclusive.”