• Kacen Callender

WIP: The Human Brand

I’m back today with some thoughts on the human being as a brand. This isn’t a topic that’s specific to just traditional publishing, but it’s one that’s affected me as a traditionally published author, so that’s the lens from which I’ll be writing.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that human beings can be whittled down to a brand, a shareable product, so that if the human can sell themselves, they make money for their product, too. Humans for sale. It isn’t too far off to say that this is directly linked to slavery. The capitalistic system we’re in today was created by slavery. We still see the effects in the ways corporations treat their employees—how the mindset has overwhelmingly been to take advantage of as many people as possible, giving them as little money as possible, for the highest profit possible. This makes me rethink the use of the word brand itself, when thought about in this connection to slavery.

I wonder if we as individual authors have adopted a similar mindset that’s just as harmful to us. One where we don’t believe we have any value as humans unless we are selling ourselves and our products. The point of “the brand” is to make ourselves into as likeable a personality as possible, as loud and funny and hot as possible, the qualities that our society has decided are positive.

I can’t ignore that less marginalized people literally steal from Black people to sell a product as a brand. The dances that have been created and stolen by Black people, the language created by Black people that is now considered Gen Z or internet slang, the white celebrities who are mistaken as Black by the excessive tanning/surgeries, the designers that steal from Black fashion designers, the numerous examples of Black people being considered ugly for their features, but the moment a white person takes those features, they’re considered beautiful—etc. This all returns to the roots of capitalism: slavery, and how less marginalized people can sell a product by using and taking advantage of Black people. Another reason why brands make me uncomfortable.

I also can’t ignore that we traditionally published authors are selling our products to corporations. The people we work with are wonderful people—but, ultimately, they also work for corporations, that, ultimately, see them in the same sense: in the end, we’re all humans that make money, and if we don’t make enough money, we’re deemed useless, cut, and are left to struggle to care for ourselves. We’re afraid of these consequences, so we stay in line and willingly play the capitalistic game.

We have more value beyond whether we make money. We have more value beyond whether people like us online. We have more value beyond whether people are buying our books. We have more value beyond the brands we create. It’s when we begin to see that value, the true value that we all have, that we begin to see the love we have for ourselves reflected in the world around us. As I begin to focus on the love I have for myself, I’m more open to receiving love from others, too—beautiful messages from other people about how the stories I’ve written affected them, many times sharing their own deeply personal stories with me, too, about their grief, their growth, stories that help me to see how intricately and lovingly connected we all are. I once believed the lie that I wasn’t as valuable as other people if I wasn’t making as much money as them, if my books weren’t making enough of a profit. The same way, I suppose, my ancestors were treated: they were only seen as valuable according to the profit they made, too.

We willingly join the capitalistic rat race, one where we want to win money by making ourselves into a person that other people will want to buy also, to prove our worth to ourselves. There’s a misconception that the only way to be an author is to turn ourselves into a marketable brand, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re the ones who work together to build our own culture, our own society, and we start with ourselves.

When we’re not selling ourselves to be accepted by others, bought by others, valued by others, are we happy? If I strip away the label of author, take away the social media and its instant validation of likes, and sit with myself and breathe, do I love myself, truly, without needing others to agree that I am loveable? Do I see my own value, which goes so far beyond any attempt I could make to whittle myself down into a brand? Not monetary value, but true value that our souls and spirits acknowledge within us. How can I embody the knowing of that worth?

I feel trapped in this capitalistic system, too. I dream about a future where money doesn’t exist, and authors can write books for free, and those books are loved and cherished because each story that comes from a person’s soul deserves to be loved and cherished, and we will be taken care of—not desperately trying to sell our books so that we can pay rent and buy food and pay for healthcare. That would be in a time where everyone is taken care of, too, and everyone is valued as human beings, not as brands that we put up for sale.

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