Is YouTube Racist? Fusion Seems To Think So (OP-ED)

(image credit: huffington post)

(image credit: huffington post)

Fusion writer Akilah Hughes kicked a digital hornet’s nest with her piece today re: YouTube and their racial, um, habits.

See, Akilah did some counting of YouTube’s promotional tweets in February, commonly known as Black History Month, and the result was a piece titled “YouTube Rarely Promotes Black YouTube Stars, Even During Black History Month.” It’s an excellent read, long for my tastes, but you should probably be thorough when you’re basically calling out a major corporation financially-backed and owned by an even more major corporation. So yeah, the length is probably very necessary.

The beat goes like this:

“I’m black. I’m a YouTuber. And I’ve felt like YouTube rarely promotes people of color. But this sort of thing is hard to prove. So, back in February, which is Black History Month, I decided to count how often they promoted black talent with their 49-million-follower Twitter feed. Through the whole month, YouTube sent out 15 tweets promoting black creators. And I’m being generous with that: all but five of the promoted black creators were Grammy award-winning musicians. Basically just a handful of not-already-famous black people got a helping hand. Meanwhile, in the same month, YouTube sent out 167 tweets promoting white creators, many with smaller, more niche followings.”

That’s straight from Akilah’s piece, btw.

I realize, as a young white male, I probably shouldn’t even be writing this. All the same, I have to point out the signature issue I have with the article.

Here’s another line: “Even if YouTube isn’t trying to systematically promote more white people than people of color, there’s a deeper question about what kind of responsibility a platform like YouTube has to promote the diversity that exists within its community.”

This statement comes on the heels of Akilah stating that Michelle Phan, an Asian woman, was one of the initial three YouTubers promoted by YouTube in their advertising campaign. And she is just one of many, many non-white creators who are popular in the space.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 3.37.53 PM

YouTube can hardly be blamed that some New Yorker in the lone tweet posted on the matter (good number of likes on the tweet, but we’d have to contrast it against their other likes on her other tweets) couldn’t tell the difference between the Vietnamese American, the Italian American and the Portuguese/Hispanic American being represented in that billboard. Perhaps, (and this is a great hope) the person who put out that tweet was so busy being sizeist that they didn’t realize they were racially colorblind? Still, it doesn’t make for a very good component of an argument that YouTube is somehow oppressive of minorities.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 4.15.20 PM

Frankly, I think YouTube has great diversity. It could be BETTER, but I think it is well ahead of the curve. In fact, the Portuguese/Hispanic American (Bethany Mota) and an African American (Glozell) were two of the three people selected from ALL of YouTube to meet with President Barack Obama. That wasn’t a subscriber-numbers game or an essay contest either.

A non-American is the number one most subscribed person on YouTube — by far. If YouTube was doing a favoritism thing with their advertising, you’d think PewDiePie would be a shoo-in for representing the “power of YouTube.” Maybe the real complaint is that YouTube has been biased FOR Americans — the great melting pot. Really, Akilah, your complaint should revolve only around black people being marginalized as your title suggests. This again is muddied when you point out that 39 percent of America is “people of color.” Your issue is that black people are being put down — not all people of color. If it is people of color you are defending, you have to compensate for that by adding up EVERY non-white person that was promoted and that means group channels that contain someone of color. It might not change things, but it also might. And that’s certainly more inclusive for the type of argument you make sporadically throughout your piece.

Akilah also pointed out that YouTube didn’t really respond to her issues, except by stating:
“YouTube would only say this: ‘YouTube is the largest open media platform in the world. Anyone, anywhere can upload videos, cultivate a following and even profit from the content they create,’ a spokesperson told me. ‘That openness has led to an incredibly diverse library of videos, reflecting a broad spectrum of beliefs, races, sexualities, cultures and classes that are underrepresented elsewhere.'”

What would you like YouTube to say? “Okay, you got us … we are secret racists”? This is pretty much the most PC comment the company could make. Also, they aren’t really the most open-mouthed company regarding any issue — I’ve dealt with them for years.

Aside from those two tiny issues, I found this to be an interesting case study in asking probing questions about the world at large. Why are so few black YouTubers represented in promotional campaigns? Is YouTube somehow more evolved in its thinking, and special emphasis (say an entire month) is no longer a component of its post-racial ethnography? Or are they actually employing tactics to keep black culture down? Sure YouTube is a sort of democracy where people can elect to follow and unfollow the accounts they want … but if YouTube isn’t promoting accounts fairly, many accounts will never receive the attention they perhaps deserve.

Positively, Akilah states that she still believes in YouTube:

“I’m not giving up on YouTube, though. I still proudly point to it as the catalyst to much of my success and opportunities (even here, at Fusion). The platform is great and gives us the power to share our stories. My only wish is that YouTube would hold itself accountable for racism on its platform, and make an effort to signal that diversity and inclusion are things it cares about.”

I don’t think YouTube is racist, but I don’t think it hurts to have Akilah and anyone else asking these types of questions.

Damn, this thing got long quickly. As it turns out the length of Akilah’s piece was perfect.

Share this article to get some perspectives on this delicate issue.

Comments are closed.