Shahd Khidir | An Influencer’s Role in Activism
It's easy to believe that the influencers we love (or love to hate) are these one dimensional characters that only exist when opening the Instagram app. So often are we quick to remind each other that no one's life is as easy as they make it out to be on the ‘gram. Though it may seem reasonable to hide the bad hair days and pimples from our feeds, we have to start questioning ourselves once we begin hiding entire aspects of our lives just because they don’t fit into one’s vision of desirability.
Shahd Khidir, known by many as @Hadyouatsalaam, is more than just a beauty influencer, she’s an activist. Khidir decided to make this known when her home country of Sudan needed her the most. On June 3rd, 2019, Khidir posted a now viral image of herself with a caption that served as a wake-up call for over 700,000 readers. Her people were being massacred and no one was talking about it. It is times like this when influencers and the rest of us have to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming and risk being fully vulnerable and authentic to spark change. Flaunt had the chance to catch up with Khidir and talk the intersection of influence and advocacy.
Could you brief me on what the current state of Sudan is as of now?
In the past couple of weeks there was a treaty to be signed between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, mediated by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. A part of that compromise was to restore the Internet, and have an international investigation for the June 3rd massacre. It was supposed to be publicized after 48 hours… However today my mom, who’s in Sudan now, was telling me it wasn't published because it was a private thing between both parties that civilians don't really have a say in. The point of this is to say that they had not come to an agreement, and there have been words, or talks of encouragement from the Forces of Freedom and Change for the civilian people to protest again. They’re being encouraged to go out into the streets and march.
Is there any fear that the same events of the June 3rd massacre will happen again if the Sudanese people go out and protest?
Absolutely, because the TMC has all the weapons and the civilians; the peaceful protestors don’t have weapons. They’ve been chanting “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful”, and it’s because peaceful protests are the only “weapon” at this point. We can't fight back against them except going to the streets and showing our distaste and anger against the military.
Is the internet back up yet?
It is. It’s been a week exactly.
You were saying that virtually the only tool that the Sudanese people have right now is a peaceful protest. Could the Internet now be used as a tool as well?
Absolutely! Even though the internet was cut off for a while, Sudanese people are very brilliant and they were like ‘Ok, we have to improvise and do something else.’ People protested in the past when there was no internet, and people literally took signs and went out to the streets, passing out flyers, chanting in the middle of the night, just encouraging people to take out to the streets as much as possible.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘Everything on the internet is forever.’ However, in situations like this, I’m reminded of how fleeting everything actually is on the Internet with Instagram stories and Snapchats. How difficult was it for you to keep people's attention on the Sudan Crisis long enough to feel like you actually achieved some change or at least achieved what you wanted to?
It’s really, really, really hard. It’s about keeping people engaged. A lot of people have become fatigued and tired. We have such a limited attention span that we can’t even watch something or be focused on something for a long time, and I think that’s just a part of being in 2019 with social media. Everything is around for 24 hours and then expires, like Instagram stories, or Snapchat stories, or Twitter with 140 letters.
I am working really hard to find that balance where I’m not only posting about Sudan, but also about advocacy and activism. I have this sense of guilt that I go through whenever I want to post my scheduled editorial content on my calendar for the campaign that I’m running.
Are there ever times when you feel that making an Instagram post isn’t the appropriate thing to do? You were saying how people will change their Instagram icon for a second and it’s like “Oh, I’m an advocate”. Do you ever feel like that’s not quite enough to call yourself an activist?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve talked about this with so many people. I have a degree in Political Science, and I never tell people that I’m a political scientist. I never go around thinking that just because I have this degree that I know more than other people or anything like that. I work in local politics in New York City and I speak with my coworkers all the time.
I am a civilian. I can change my icon. I can post it on my story. I can post it on my Instagram. I can talk about it. I can do interviews. But at the end of the day, I physically can’t do anything. I just feel so crippled. I don’t have an answer. That’s the least I can do, but it’s never enough.
Maybe the internet is not the most powerful tool, but you still used a privilege you had that the people living in Sudan were deprived of.
I have been telling people to keep sharing because yes we are privileged, and these people have been literally silenced. We have to use our voice and our privilege to help.
Is it hard to be taken seriously in politics when so many people know you for your beauty influence?
I always say that I work and I werk. One is w.o.r.k, and the other is w.e.r.k. So at my job, I’m a professional woman when I walk into the office. When I walk out of the office, I am all other things. I am a beauty influencer, and I am whatever it is that I deem myself to be. But in the office, I demand that respect and people have given it to me.
Do you think it’s an impossible mission to try to educate people on a cause that Western Media has continuously dismissed?
I really don’t want to have this defeatist attitude and say that it is impossible. I want to say that we can put a conscious effort in 2019. Sometimes I do some consulting for brands, and I always remind them that in 2019, representation is very important. Inclusivity is important. These are very essential things.
When I first started on social media, everybody looked the same. They dressed the same. You had to have the exact same aesthetic or you had no chance. But today, in 2019? Micro-influencers have a lot of power. You just press a button. You have diversity from all aspects. There’s body positivity, and people with different disabilities, and different gender expressions and backgrounds. We have come a long way. I hate the defeatist attitude.