In celebration of her 35th birthday, popular Nigerian American influencer and YouTuber, Jackie Aina took to social media to share pictures and videos from her owambe-themed party, while simultaneously announcing the release of a new collection of candles. Out of the four, the choice of name for one of the candles, which she chose to call ‘Sòrò Sókè’, has been causing quite a stir on Nigerian social media streets (and understandably so).
Now, make no mistake: we love a nice-smelling candle as much as the next person, just as we love to see a black Nigerian woman thriving. But this is about more than just a candle. In a video, Jackie explained that ‘Sòrò Sókè’ is a Yoruba expression, which means “speak louder”. What she failed to mention is how the phrase came with a much deeper meaning as a slogan during the #EndSars protests in October 2020, particularly for a generation of young Nigerians that had so often been accused of being docile and indifferent to socio-political happenings around them.
This time around, young people across the country were joining voices and resources, organizing protests in a matter of days, refusing to back down until somebody listened to them and their call for better governance and an end to police brutality. This time, it was personal. As a result, many were arrested and beaten, while some are still missing or in police custody to this day. And then of course there are those who never made it home alive following the massacre at the Lekki toll gates. To call these memories traumatic would simply not capture the weight of the experience at all. And to casually call your cardamom-scented candle ‘Sòrò Sókè’, co-opting #EndSARS language solely for marketing purposes comes across as inconsiderate and tone-deaf — especially coming from an influential public figure of Nigerian descent who many recall had absolutely nothing to say at the time of the protests, but rather went on a blocking spree when Nigerians called her out on her silence.
Some might say that this is purely business. In fact, some have said that this was nothing more than a tactical business move, which seems a fair point when you consider that even the backlash still serves the purpose of creating buzz around her candles.
This Jackie Aina situation really re-confirms why influencer culture will never be ethical. It’s hinged on marketing and selling products. So yeah, aestheticising your culture to sell candles makes sense in that aspect.
— Zuva Seven (@ZuvaSeven) August 5, 2022
Now that a carefully worded apology has surfaced stating that the candle in question will be pulled from the market and production, one might be led to believe that perhaps this really was just a failure on the part of the ForvrMood team. After all, it is just a candle, and occurrences like this are nothing new. But while it is true that everybody makes mistakes, are we learning from these mistakes?
In a world fueled more by profit than conscience, it becomes increasingly important for businesses, influencers and brands (especially the larger and more popular ones) to fully embrace and understand that they have a responsibility to be, at the very least, sagacious in their dealings, and operate with a certain level of emotional intelligence, even, and especially, when profit is the aim.
It does not seem fair to simply shrug and call this a blunder or say that she and several like her in the diaspora are simply out of touch with the realities of those back at home (which may not be entirely untrue). Because if we are being honest, there is, in fact, a term that comes to mind in the face of all this drama — social profiteering, which is simply defined as “co-opting or capitalizing on a social movement with little to no regard for those affected by or involved in the movement itself”. When it comes to matters such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, nobody questions why this kind of profit-making is considered offensive. In a similar vein, Nigerians have a right to their outrage when things like this occur — especially considering the fact that the aforementioned candles are not even available in the country! It’s giving, “I’m only Nigerian when it benefits my pockets”.
At the end of the day, we all know that the dust settles quickly on matters like these; life goes on, candles may be pulled out of production like it never happened, and of course, there will always be something new to talk about. We also know that in this age of social media marketing and influencing, ethics more often than not takes a backseat. But should that be a reason to simply let things slide? Just as it is important for businesses to listen to those who keep them running, it is equally important that we, as consumers of their products or even just their content, continue to give them something to listen to: we must speak up, ask the hard questions and demand accountability. After all, that is exactly what it means to ‘Sòrò Sókè.