YouTube just reached 1 billion monthly users, who use the site to view and share billions of hours of video. With all that traffic, successful content creators can make lot money from what they produce for the site. Of those who do make big bucks from their videos, however, only a few are people of color.
Multiracial news outlet Colorlines.com reported on and produced a video about the “YouTube and Racism” Panel at the SXSW festival, where comedians Andre Meadows (Black Nerd Comedy) and Franchesca Ramsey (Chescaleigh), and online identity researcher Jenny Ungbha Korn addressed the intersections of race and YouTube.
“It was important for Colorlines.com to produce a video about YouTube and race,” said Jorge Rivas, Multimedia Editor and Pop Culture blogger at Colorlines.com, “because the video sharing platform was seen as the great media equalizer where people would be able to tell their own stories. And while that is true to some degree, YouTube is still not very different from traditional media outlets.”
It turns out that access plays out differently and with more consequences for black and brown vloggers. According to Rivas, only two of the top 100 personalities are black. This is particularly problematic, as both Ramsey and Meadows bring up in the video, because high rankings drive traffic, which also drives revenue.
Panel moderator Chase Hoffberger was surprised at the depth of the challenges faced by black and minority YouTube content creators. “It was interesting to hear Andre Meadows talk so candidly in our advance meetings about brand endorsement issues. I hadn't even considered that as part of our conversation,” he said. Meadows noted that he was sometimes overlooked for product placement or other opportunities, even when they would have been a good fit for his audience.
In addition to the issues of finances and exposure, the panelists also touched on the fact that minority vloggers often face negative race- and gender-based attacks. For example, when Issa Rae, creator of the popular web show Awkward Black Girl, won a 2012 Shorty Award, she drew the ire of racist online commenters.
So, how to address these problems?
One solution is to strengthen the pipeline. Korn emphasized the need for YouTube to work with young people to give them the tools and skills they need to be able to share their experiences on the platform.
“YouTube has an incredible opportunity to partner with high schools and middle schools to ensure that YouTube continues to receive innovative, creative content from emerging vloggers,” she explained. “In particular, YouTube should choose to team with schools featuring underrepresented voices to help ensure diversity within online content that is created, produced, and shared on YouTube.”
This panel and video brought to light the hurdles minority voices have to overcome in the vlogging space. Even with the sheer volume of users and content available on YouTube, there is still an opportunity to make the space more egalitarian for underrepresented content creators. A clear way to do that is in teaching the next generation of vloggers how to use the necessary tools to capture the world around them, and Colorlines.com’s SXSW video was an example of how the platform can be used to represent well.