Supporting Diverse Creators on YouTube
YouTube — when it comes to uploading, it’s is a site that does not discriminate. Well, aside from a couple requirements you need to get started like a computer, an internet connection, and a webcam…eh, scratch the webcam, might as well upgrade to a DSLR while you’re prepping for your channel launch! That’s what most kids are shooting with these days!
Once you’ve got those things though, you’re set! Unless of course you live in China, Iran, Pakistan or one of the countries where YouTube is banned.
After that, you’re golden! Except for…
I think you can see where I’m going here.
Often when people sing YouTube’s praises we frequently hear things like, “Authentic videos that reflect everyday people!” and “A place where anyone can upload regardless of race, age, gender, or orientation!” While these these claims might be true, you wouldn’t know it by looking at just the top tier creators.
Just a cursory glance at Social Blade’s 50 most subscribed to channels will show you that although it’s a global platform, YouTube’s biggest stars are predominantly white (approximately 65%), and are even more so predominantly male (approximately 71%). What’s more, nearly all of these channels are run by able bodied, straight, cisgender people.
This lack of diversity amongst top tier creators shouldn’t surprise anyone, we’ve seen it since the birth of the platform (which has only ever had one non-white and two female leaders since 2006.) We were reminded of this lack of diversity it in 2015, during black history month, when Akilah Hughes pointed out the number of tweets YouTube posted promoting black creators was only 15 compared to the 167 tweets they posted promoting white channels. And we still see it today, in 2016, when the only channel amongst the top 30 that stars an LGBT+ person, is TheEllenShow. Yikes.
Thankfully change might be in the air. YouTube’s latest ad campaign for the YouTube Music App seems to be an ode to diversity, featuring Alex, a gender non-conforming teen, Jaysn a young, swaggy, Korean hip-hop connoisseur, and Afsa, a woman who wears a hijab and can rap Blackalicious’s music almost better than the man himself.
Another exciting show of support for diversity was when VidCon, one of the largest annual conventions celebrating YouTube content, offered its first panel spotlighting gender diversity this year. The panel featured creators who identified as trans, nonbinary, gender neutral, agender, and questioning. YouTube’s 2016 #Proudtobe video also featured gender and sexual identities just as, if not more, diverse.
Watching YouTube and conventions embrace diversity over this last year has been exciting, but one only needs to look in the comments section of these projects to know that there is long way to go before diverse identities are widely accepted.
We can’t sit back idly and simply wait for acceptance to happen however. If creators hope for the platform to become a place that truly celebrates and represents all kinds of people, we need to start taking action. This is why below I offer four tips for creating and supporting diversity in content.
1. Actively seek diverse perspectives
Every creator needs to understand that the scope of diversity that exists on YouTube is wider than they might expect. Often minority groups are not spotlighted by YouTube, so they can take a little digging to find.
I remember last June I was telling a fellow content creator how excited I was that there was going to be nonbinary representation on VidCon’s Gender Diversity panel. Not only was my fellow content creator unaware of what being nonbinary meant, but they were even more surprised to learn how many nonbinary people have channels on YouTube. I told my friend there was a whole community of nonbinary creators which was made up of hundreds (if not thousands) of people! I told them that nonbinary YouTubers might not be promoted by the site, they might not be in the top 10 or even 1,000 channels, but if you find even one person like this, you could go for hours clicking in the their “Related Channels” boxes finding more and more!
One of my favorite YouTube creators, Leslie Datsis, calls this “falling down the YouTube rabbit hole.” It’s when you find yourself clicking and clicking around on YouTube until you end up in a place or on a channel you would have never found otherwise. I encourage anyone interested in broadening their view to people different from themselves to fall down this rabbit hole.
After all, it’s important to remember that diverse perspectives don’t often just land in our laps. Sometimes they are hidden, and we have to be active in our pursuit to find them.
Once you have traveled down the rabbit hole, my second tip is to hang out down there for a while. And I mean, for a while.
2. Spend time with diverse communities
Really engage with communities that are different from you. This means watching, liking, and commenting on multiple of their videos. Simply viewing one video by a trans vlogger or a person of color is not enough. Gaining an understanding of diverse perspectives and the adversity minorities face takes time and in-depth conversation.
No one knows this better than Leena from JustKissMyFrog. In her video series “Stupid Questions With Leena” Leena invites peoples who different from her (guests have included queer people, Muslims, disabled people, and more) and shows us she is truly invested in learning about them. What has me so convinced that Leena cares to understand diverse perspectives is that she has 30–45 minute conversations with her guests and uploads the entire discussion to YouTube. Lenna says she does this because,
“The idea is to get people on this channel that aren’t me to tell me to tell me what it’s like to not be me. I’m very aware that being me is one hell of a limited experience. The point of [the videos] being longer isn’t ‘shareable 4 minute content,’ it’s like NO, it takes a long time to understand these concepts if you’re not familiar with them and if it’s not your experience, and you do need to sit down and invest some time to actually bloody listen.”
By actually “bloody listening” like Leena, and engaging in discussions with diverse people in the comments section of their videos, not only will you expose yourself to new perspectives, but you will be indirectly promoting these creators, which is my next tip.
3. Share what you’ve found with your audience
Since platforms often do not advertise these creators, the responsibility falls on us. Share the channel of someone very different than you on your end card, pop their link in your description box, recommend channels in your sidebar, or even better, tweet their video directly to your followers!
4. Collaborate with diverse creators
Lend YOUR platform to minority voices. Now that you’ve spent time finding and engaging with diverse people and you’ve encouraged your audience to do the same by sharing these creators, it’s time to take the next and best step. You can do this by collabing with diverse voices, having them as guests in a video, or maybe even letting them take over your channel!
Davey Wavey does an excellent job at this. His scholarship progam “Rising Rainbow” offers LGBT+ youth with “different lived experiences” from Davey, and less that 10,000 subscribers, the funds to bring them to Los Angeles and collab with him. Davey then posts the video, and puts a diverse voice, in front of his over 1 million subscribers. The first recipient of the “Rising Rainbow” Scholarship was, JD Dalton, who describes the experience below,
“Over a Skype call while planning our collab video, he told me that he chose me because he saw my passion for creating educational content on my channel. Since then I have been recognized as one of the leading voices within the disabled community on YouTube. Several Native American organizations have requested me to speak at a youth leadership summit and other conferences focused on Native education and activism. I was also invited to be a Featured Creator at VidCon 2016 where I spoke on the YouTubers with Disabilities panel for the Creator Track.”
Clearly collabing with Davey opened several well deserved doors for JD. Explaining why programs like this are important, JD continues,
“Although most people may not have as many intersecting minority labels as I do, (legally blind, gay, Native American with albinism) there are definitely those who aren’t as “relatable” to a certain degree. If you are an ethnic minority, disabled, or part of the queer community it’s nice to see representation from someone who can relate to where you’re coming from. Sharing the spotlight on any platform helps to show others that we are just people. Different in our own experiences and perhaps in need accommodations, but we are people of the community.”
Perhaps, not all of us have the resources available to us to offer such an amazing scholarship program like Davey, but we can still raise diverse voices up. I’ve invited several people to “virtually collab” with me by scripting videos together over skype and sending footage to the other via email. My “ABC’s of LGBT+” series is crafted almost entirely from virtually collabs in fact, and one of the episodes, “Everything Ace and Aro”, lifts up over 12 different asexual and aromantic voices in just one video alone.
In the end creating and supporting diverse content on YouTube isn’t always easy, but it is important. Sometimes you have to go on a hunt for these voices and sometimes we have to get creative about how we can help raise them up.
But if we care about focusing ourselves and our audiences on interesting and nuanced looks at our fellow humans, it’s something we will invest the effort in and make happen.
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