This is Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
“I feel like YouTubers made their money off Black people.”
Over the past five years, 31-year-old Sanders Kennedy has dedicated his career to being a watchdog of YouTubers. He breaks, analyzes, and reacts to all kinds of news and gossip for his close community of 240,000 like-minded subscribers.
Sanders has long known about Jeffree Star’s problematic and controversial past, Shane Dawson’s history with racism, and various YouTubers' bad behavior over the years. He’s not fazed by much anymore, but being one of the few Black drama commentators on the platform, he said he’s having a much harder time trying to manage his own emotions while working. His job, in a lot of ways, is busier than ever — trying to keep up with all of the actions and apologies of badly behaving YouTubers. Most recently, he exhaustively summarized everything Tati Westbrook has revealed about Jeffree and Shane and their apparent involvement in the whole James Charles saga from a year ago.
Sanders enjoys covering the “petty stuff” — it’s what he’s built his career on. However, he said he has become disheartened by how much attention YouTuber infighting will get in comparison to the more serious accusations.
“I’m very offended that people are more concerned with what’s going on with [Shane] and Tati … than what he’s done to children and harming children,” Sanders told me, alluding to Shane’s past jokes about pedophilia. “Tati’s the main story now.”
Whether or not Shane’s finally paying the price now for his offenses, Sanders pointed out that Shane has directly profited off racist and harmful content for years. He’s made enough money to last him a lifetime.
“That’s the part that hits me the hardest. I feel like YouTubers made their money off Black people,” said Sanders. “Influencers made money off of blackface.”
Sanders also said he’s resigned himself to the fact that Shane, Jeffree, and other problematic YouTubers have fans who “will stick by them.”
“Being that [Shane] has a majority of white viewers and that he was called out for blackface, it’s not going to damage him. They’re not offended. He has more likes than dislikes on his apology video and that says a lot,” he said. (As of Thursday, Shane’s “Taking Accountability” video had racked up more than 13 million views, with over 585,000 upvotes and 436,000 downvotes.)
“He will be perfectly fine in his Calabasas mansion — he just won’t be popular [but] his fans will stick by him. Just like Paula Deen, she’s still making millions. She’s still thriving.”
Sanders also used axed Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder, and her racist past, as an example.
“Her audience is 90% white. They’re not offended.” In fact, there are multiple petitions floating around to have Bravo executives rehire Stassi. One of them has been signed by more than 24,000 people.
(Personal aside: I wonder what impact 24,000 people could have made if their signatures and their energies went toward other causes, like recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday this year, for example.)
“It really hurts,” Sanders said about these kinds of realities. “It would be disrespectful to not acknowledge race. I’m not playing the race card; I’m playing statistics.”
Being that he’s a full-time YouTuber who makes a living by talking about drama, he’s had to find the right “balance” of staying energized by all the progress and momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and allowing himself to also “break away” at times and do his job.
“There’s still protests happening, and, yes, we do need to focus on important things. Just cause Black Lives Matter doesn’t take up your timeline anymore doesn’t mean it’s not going on,” he said. “We need to find that balance of keeping the important things in our hearts, like remembering to vote and reminding people daily that Black lives do matter.”
“We can be mad about little things and also hold the important things close. Just never forget what the important issues are.”
Notably, while Tati’s dramatic video has already gained nearly 8 million views in a day, many people are flooding the comments sections with messages seeking justice for Breonna Taylor.
While Sanders seems understandably cynical about how much evolution is actually possible for YouTube culture and consequences for creators, we did talk about “incremental” change — and putting more of the onus on YouTube.
“It’s the system they’re in. It’s all white people. So let’s fix that, but it’s not going to get fixed unless someone makes a big noise. But it’s going to take a lot to make that noise.”
Until next time,