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Featured Session: Own Your Story, Own Your Strength with Rachel Hollis - 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals

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You may hear “Still I Rise” and automatically know that it’s the iconic Maya Angelou poem, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with quoting it without giving the late poet, memoirist, singer, actress and activist her due credit.

Influencer and author of Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis, realized that after, she says, her team shared just three words from the poem to her Instagram. “The post read “STILL…I rise” with a caption that was meant to send some encouragement to people during the chaos of this pandemic. Despite whatever her intentions were, followers and social media users quickly called out her use of the quote without proper attribution.

People, like writer Austin Channing Brown, called out the actions of Hollis and people like her who are inspired by the work, the words of Black women and use it without giving credit where credit is due. We’ve talked constantly about it in regards to Black women’s hairstyles, our fashion sense and things of that nature being ripped off by white influencers and public figures, but not as often in terms of how the creative work of Black women is treated by these same individuals. Unfortunately, some people treated these criticisms as full-on attacks, reported Brown, and her account was given a “shadow ban,” a partial ban of her page, for telling the truth about Hollis’s plagiarism:

Surprisingly though, it wasn’t just Black women who were outspoken in their disdain for such actions. White women and non-Black women also took issue with Hollis and fellow white women who are fans of the influencer who tried to act as though it was not a big deal. Some also claimed that such actions wasn’t anything new for Hollis,

Hollis would go on to delete the post and share an apology for the use of Angelou’s words without giving her credit. However, she put the blame on her social team, whom she said posted it, not her.

“This morning I found out that my social team posted a graphic on my Instagram yesterday that said, “Still… I Rise,” she wrote on Instagram. “That is, obviously, an immortal line from a Maya Angelou poem— only, no credit was given to her. I immediately deleted the post but I want to make sure and publicly apologize. While I didn’t create or post the graphic, I am the leader of the team that did and so I accept full responsibility for their actions. I can’t imagine how deeply hurtful it is to the African American community to see the words of your heroes used without credit. This has happened to you far too often and I hate — I literally HATE — that anything produced by my company added to your pain.”

“I heard once that the only real apology was one where you don’t make an excuse, and so I won’t. I am deeply sorry,” she added. “I understand that this post without credit is not a little thing to you… this is death by a thousand cuts. This is the millionth type of incident like this you’ve experienced. This is not OK. I apologize, sincerely. We will do better.”

Plenty of people still weren’t pleased, saying that despite her claims that she didn’t want to make excuses, she was doing just that. But Hollis has already moved on. A day after saying “sorry,” she was back to giving out instructions for making overnight oatmeal and chatting about meal prep.

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