Franchesca Ramsey is a viral Internet sensation. She uses humorous YouTube videos and Tumblr sequences to tackle several cultural plagues, including racism, sexism and the persistence of rape culture. Ramsey, known through the Internet as Chescaleigh, posted “Sh** White Girls Say to Black Girls” to her YouTube channel in 2012 and it generated millions of hits. The viral video increased her exposure – to audiences and racism.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Ramsey explained on the “Racism on YouTube” panel at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference. “It’s opened a lot of doors for me, but I know that because of that video, there are some people who are never going to watch my videos and are never going to give me a chance and see that I’m so much more than that video.”
The Racism on YouTube panel examined the various struggles minorities, particularly black Americans, contend with on the platform.
Ramsey sees YouTube as a viable platform riddled with racism because it’s easier to invoke anonymity when responding to posters.
“On Facebook, you have to like my page,” she explained to CNN. “(YouTube) is such a visual medium. If I have a blog, you don’t need to know what race I am. If you watch my videos, you know I’m a black woman.”
But the racism extends past comments to the demographics of the forefront personalities. Jenny Unghba Korn, a web researcher, found only one black creator, four Asians, and one of Middle Eastern descent rank in the top 100 most popular YouTube channels.
But this is simply reflective of how minorities are regarded in business.
“YouTube in and of itself isn’t some special device,” she told CNN. “It’s actually a reflection of the culture that we’re in right now. There’s a reason that folks feel empowered to say things online that they would not say in person. In person, you almost want to dare them to say something like that, because they wouldn’t get away with it.”
In life we have the chance to lower our voices when we address cultural issues. We whisper in restaurants, speak low to one another in the boardroom and spill it out over drinks. But visual figures, like Chescaleigh, don’t have that luxury.
A lot of writers, academics and ordinary, productive citizens don’t have that privilege either. When we critique popular culture, politics and fashion with a racialized lens, we’re met with “reverse racist” allegations and accused of resurfacing race past “post-racial” culture. We’re met with the “I’m a white male, so I guess I should apologize for being a racist and sexist member of the white fraternity” or “This article is reverse racism against whites.”
But what Chescaleigh reminds us is of the benefits of using our voices to raise awareness to the issues plaguing social institutions.
Her YouTube channel has generated 18 million views, so an audience is absorbing her content.