How African creatives face racism on freelancing platforms

Racism is a big word. But, unfortunately, it fits into a lot of conversations. One relevant but overlooked conversation is racism in the world of freelancing. African creatives, namely writers and designers, do not get equal attention from the five million small to medium-sized businesses that outsource work to freelancers on Upwork and Fiverr.

It is always hard to explain how racism happens, especially when most arguments can easily be labelled as heresy and not factual information. It is also hard to have a conversation about racism without any kind of data at all. But that doesn’t mean it is not happening and nothing meaningful can be said about African creatives facing racism. 

Racism for writers

Despite English being the official language in most African countries (especially in Southern Africa), African writers face discrimination on freelancing platforms due to their ethnicity. This means that they are interviewed less. When interviewed, they are expected to do more work for much less. Of course, African writers carry themselves with good dignity so they do not succumb to low-blow offers from clients but that means that they are missing out on a lot of money because small to medium-sized businesses are poorly informed about the level of English literacy and fluency that most Africans have. 

Even though African writers have all the facts and past work to prove their English proficiency, they are categorically considered lesser than caucasian writers by clients who need writing help. These clients tend to be from non-anglophone countries where you are also less likely to meet black people or let alone Africans. This is how racism comes about; a lack of familiarity with black people in general. 

There are over 5 million active clients on both Upwork and Fiverr driving an annual spend on freelancing services of about U$13 billion. This is a lot of money to be spent on a system that is racist in how it determines which freelancers get to earn this money.

Racism for designers

Even though people of colour tend to be world-renowned creatives and designers, African designers suffer more than African writers when it comes to being valued and hired for remote freelancing projects. On the biggest stages, movie sets, and brand initiatives, people of colour are leading the global culture. However, as designers for small to medium-sized businesses, they are picked last. SMBs favour caucasian designers and interestingly expect high wages from caucasian designers only. Furthermore, SMBs view Asian designers from India and Pakistan as the cheaper alternative to highly respected caucasian designers. 

How do we solve racism in the gig economy?

It is a daunting task, that is for sure. However, this conversation is worth it given the value that is being spent on both Upwork and Fiverr. Here are some ideas on how we can solve racism on freelancing platforms: 


  • Do race sensitization training with clients on Upwork and Fiverr
  • Create new freelancing platforms that are focused on counteracting racism by giving people of colour the benefit of the doubt
  • Give freelancers of colour a performance bonus contingent on their earnings
Race sensitization training for clients on Upwork and Fiverr

Currently, race is not a conversation that either Upwork or Fiverr entertain. Despite it being such a big influence on how 5 million people spend $13 billion on these two platforms every year. 

Race sensitization is supposed to be happening. Clients need training on becoming more than comfortable with meeting, interviewing, and working alongside someone who is of a different race. This is largely because working with an African writer or designer is not supposed to be happening in the offline world. It’s happening and could be happening much more than racism currently allows on the internet. 

Creating freelancing platforms focused on black or African creatives

This strategy is crucial to solving the issue of racism in the freelancing world. The idea is to create new and niche-focused freelancing platforms or “services as a SaaS” experiences for clients who are open to spending their money in support of creatives of colour. 

These platforms could also be designed to offer quality work at affordable rates. By taking advantage of the lower prices that African creatives tend to  offer due to living in countries with lower costs of living. 

Freelancers of colour could earn a reverse discrimination performance bonus

This idea sounds bizarre, but, it also serves as a testament to the lack of practical ideas and innovation to combat racist spending on freelancing platforms. I call it racist spending because that is exactly what it is. People hire freelancers with an annual budget of U$13 billion without worrying about whether they are paying it out with a racial bias or not. 

Those are the grounds on which this idea is to be considered. Creating a system that gives African freelancers a bonus for reaching certain revenue milestones while charging caucasian counterparts a ‘race fee’ to create a budget for this reverse discrimination bonus. This is an important restorative justice idea that could go a long way in restoring the income that African writers are denied because of racism.

Creating freelancing platforms that give African creatives the benefit of the doubt is the surest way to a future where African writers and designers see the light of day. Building niche platforms for people of colour should be the focus. Once African creatives have access through niche platforms, their skills and excellent past work will live up to the global standards that small to medium-sized businesses have come to expect of any freelancer or creative. 

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