Why is LeftTube so white?
June 5, 2019 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Why is "LeftTube" So White? According to Kat Blaque, it largely seems to be because White people are only willing to listen to the dangers of things like white nationalism when it's coming from another White person.

Kat's recommendations of POC LeftTubers:
T1J
Angie Speaks
Joulzey
Lady Columbia
Rey Almonte
Sensei Aishitemasu
Benjamin Dixon
Suck My Opinion
Maria Jorge
Ash Sarkar
ElectricMayhem87
For Harriet

Comment from ContraPoints (Natalie Wynn), who Kat shouts out as a LeftTuber she loves but also notices gets more respect than her for being White:
I'm glad you went here. I get asked about this a lot and I'm glad I can send people to this video.

I think you're being very fair and I really feel what you're saying about how it should be enough for you to say "this is racist, this is terrifying to me." It's such a source of pain and shame for me that we live in this country where white nationalism is considered a valid thing to debate, and isn't just shouted down from any platform as it would be if there were any real sense of humanity.

My perspective on the attention I get from the media is that I've become extremely frustrated by the fact that no journalist wants to talk to me unless the conversation is all about deradicalizing racist white men. It's been a year since I made a video about the alt-right, but that's all any journalist wants to talk to me about. They treat me as a public resource for the rehabilitation of 19-year-old racists. And I'm so done being that, I'm so tired of it. Most of the content I've made in 2019 is about trans issues. But journalists don't care, they don't want to talk about that, unless, again, I'm willing to completely center the feelings of bigoted men. Nearly half my viewers are women according to analytics. When I do meetups, most of the people who come are LGBT+. But journalists don't cover that part of my audience. No one asks them what they think, no one cares, because every story about me has to actually be about this redemption arc for edgy racists. I'm nothing but a character in that story, like this transgender witch in the woods who sets them back on their hero's journey.

But you're right, at least there are a lot of people listening to me, and part of the reason is that I'm white. It is unfair.
posted by divabat (13 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good post. Worth noting as well that Kat got pushback for making this video available early for patreon subscribers, as well as accusations that she was attacking creators like Natalie Wynn, which she then addressed on her youtube channel's community page :

My white counter parts manage to run thriving Patreon accounts with not nearly as much criticism. I think it’s funny that you think I’d hate anyone on Leftube and I think it really reveals a lot of your gross, and yes, racist bias. If you paid attention to the end of the past 10 or so videos I’ve made, you’d see that ContraPoints is a member of my Patreon. She’s also one of the few creators whose work I have immense respect for and I admire. When she first started out, I was posting her content everywhere to promote it. Nothing has changed.

It is just really obvious to me how much people on YouTube will always see white women as delicate and in need of protection. I can’t speak about racial bias without you tripping over yourself to defend a white woman who has never been my adversary or enemy. Literally anyone who has paid attention to my activity on social media knows I love all of these people. But it’s interesting how some of you would be so quick to assume the opposite. Your racial bias is not lost on me.


Wynn's response also seems solid. Frankly her point about pigeonholing, that "every story about me has to actually be about this redemption arc for edgy racists", could be a whole separate topic of discussion on its own.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 1:53 AM on June 5 [34 favorites]


Oh thanks! I had seen some of T1J and AngieSpeaks' stuff, and was wondering if someone had focused more on this question, just last week. Christmas in june.
posted by eustatic at 2:28 AM on June 5


The YouTube algorithm certainly has a role in this, amplifying any biases it sees in the existing viewership and transferring them to new viewers.

I don't remember when the first LeftTube/BreadTube channels began popping up in my recommendations, and I don't know which videos in my viewing history made it happen, but it was ContraPoints in there initially, hbomberguy some time later. I'm a subscriber to both now, and my sidebar or home page has, to my knowledge, never recommended a PoC LeftTuber to me. PhilosophyTube started showing up there a short while back, and that's it even for white LeftTubers. I have no idea how aggressively the algorithm tries to find new content and new creators for me in this topic vs. all the other topics I frequent, but the answer seems to be "not very".
posted by jklaiho at 3:11 AM on June 5 [8 favorites]


Additionally, I wonder which "buckets" the YT algorithm is placing the PoC creators in. When I first started using Spotify, whenever I'd listen to some Finnish artists, pretty much regardless of genre, or which genres of foreign artists I'd be listening in addition to them, my recommendations would fill up with other Finnish artists whose music I had no interest in. If the recommendations worked by genre alone, there'd be no way they would have appeared there. Instead, it seemed like there was a "Finnish artists of any type" bucket in addition to the genre-specific buckets. I don't even mean that anyone deliberately made it that way, I would assume it's just an algorithm gone wild.

This is purely guesswork on my part, but I wouldn't be surprised if the YouTube algorithm is similarly classifying the PoC LeftTubers in a different bucket than the white ones. Any inherent viewer biases would certainly steer it this way, recommending PoC creators to one set of viewers and white creators to another, and then the algorithmic feedback loop would reinforce this in perpetuity.
posted by jklaiho at 3:36 AM on June 5 [17 favorites]


I eventually left Facebook, but I'm white-passing poc and a few years ago when I got vocal there about social justice issues, most of my normal white (liberal, progressive, but not radicalized) friends were happy to treat me like the most uppity, unpleasant piece of shit person of color so they didn't have to do any hard thinking or hard work. Meanwhile they ate up posts by other white friends who were just quoting the Dalai Lama without attribution.

Leaving Facebook helped preserve some of those old friendships (I think social media reinforces this kind of ostracism, which is not to our benefit). But I don't know what to do about this dynamic of homosocial (in the sense of white people more innately trusting what other white people say) social justice other than urging more "woke" white people to write/speak about social justice, and encouraging more white people to read and trust writing and other media created by people of color.

And that feels like centering the wrong voices in a way.
posted by kalessin at 4:55 AM on June 5 [21 favorites]


This is purely guesswork on my part, but I wouldn't be surprised if the YouTube algorithm is similarly classifying the PoC LeftTubers in a different bucket than the white ones. Any inherent viewer biases would certainly steer it this way, recommending PoC creators to one set of viewers and white creators to another, and then the algorithmic feedback loop would reinforce this in perpetuity.

If anecdotes count for anything, inspired by this fpp about training the Netflix recommendation engine by clicking only on certain types of thumbnails, I tried doing the same on YouTube but only clicking on videos that had a PoC in the thumbnail. It took a little more than a day and a lot of clicking for the recommendation algorithm to flip over and suggest content from mostly PoC creators. It wasn't very "sticky" once I stopped putting effort into it; in less than a few days it was back to normal, primarily white YouTube recommendations.

So, yeah, I came away with the feeling that the YouTube software is definitely amplifying the biases of its userbase, and that our silicon valley overlords are creating platforms where skin color is a determining factor for success and reach.
posted by peeedro at 7:43 AM on June 5 [32 favorites]


I posted this as a comment on Kat's video but I'll post it here too:

I've thought about making Leftube-ish videos for a long while now. I write about it a lot, I make other work like performances and games about it a lot, I've been an activist on the ground for years. At one point I thought about making a video series as the character of Poona Li Hung, President of Australia (based on a biography of right-wing Australian nationalist Pauline Hanson, where she was all "in the future Australia will be ruled by a President who is a half Korean half Indian android lesbian named Poona Li Hung AND THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO END MIGRATION") and I'd comment on Australian politics sorta like John Oliver in style - well-researched but also satirical.

But the sheer effort and time I would need to make even a talking-head video, never mind all the extra bits and bobs if I want to make characters out of it, would NEVER be recouped in any way that would make the effort worthwhile.

I've tried making YouTube videos before. It takes forevveeerrrrrrrr to film and edit and that's with a super basic setup. I don't have great lights and the best camera I have is my phone. I know people will say that doesn't matter, but it does!! Especially if you're hoping to be taken at all seriously! At least with writing all I need is my computer.

And there's no guarantee someone's going to care. I already have a pretty strong social media presence so my writing does get somewhere. Presenting or performing generally involves an audience. On the ground activism - well, you're not working alone. AND EVEN THEN - who's going to pay for it? Sometimes I get to pitch my articles to a publication and get paid for it, but that's not often. Other work is similarly underpaid. Activism doesn't pay half the time. Having a strong social media presence, in this case, doesn't necessarily help - I get a lot of "OMG YOUR WORK IS SOOOOOOO VALUABLE I LEARN SO MUCH FROM YOU" but only 1% of those people actually pay me, whether directly or through Patreon or hiring me for something. I try asking for payment from anyone else and it's like "but ohhhh we can't afford youuuu BUT KEEP GOING ANYWAY WE LEARN SO MUCH". They tell me "just PUT YOURSELF OUR THERE" and I'm like, I already have, this is how you found me, stop exploiting me and actually pay me geez. If someone paid me a living wage to make YouTube videos then sure, but otherwise? I've got other priorities.

Not that they really do anything about all the stuff they ~learn from~ me. Like Kat said, they're not going to care until it's a white person that says it. I'm a Furious Brown Immigrant Femme, at best they patronize me, at worst I get lambasted (even from people who supposedly share my politics, because god forbid the Left have any issues). It's just passive but no action. (8 years later they'll then realise the folly of their ways and suddenly appreciate me and apologize, which is what happened with the Australian burlesque industry after they exiled me for being too outspoken about racism, but the damage has been done and there's no recompense.)

I admire those still putting in the effort despite the costs. Maybe one day I'll find the cost-benefit analysis to be in my favor, but for now I'm not interested in putting in any more work just for the sake of people who like me for free but don't think I'm worth paying for.
posted by divabat at 7:47 AM on June 5 [24 favorites]


My experience is a lot like jklaiho's.

I actually found LeftTube through hbomberguy's video on Bloodborne. Saw he had political content, and was afraid to click on it, afraid I'd have to put him in the bin with most the gamers who share their politicial views on YouTube - but felt I couldn't just ignore it. I was pleasantly surprised.

Since I watch gaming videos sometimes, it took a long time for me to break YouTube's insistence on showing me alt-right trash. I finally got it to recommend other LeftTubers by aggressively liking hbomberguy, shaun, and ContraPoints, but as far as I can recall the only time it has ever recommended a POC LeftTuber was after I watched some videos on Black hairstyles.

Now my recommendations are back to 100% white. It will recommend alt-right trash by white people before it will recommend lefty content by POC.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:20 AM on June 5 [8 favorites]


So, yeah, I came away with the feeling that the YouTube software is definitely amplifying the biases of its userbase, and that our silicon valley overlords are creating platforms where skin color is a determining factor for success and reach.

Yeah, that's exactly what's happening. The algorithm isn't just influenced by what you do (although that's a heavily weighted factor) but also by people who it sees as "like you" also do. This is why you can get it to flip by explicitly swimming upstream for a little while, but then after you stop it reverts as the sheer tonnage of other folks "like you" going downstream floods back in again. I don't think you need the additional qualifiers about who white folks listen to about nationalism or politics or philosophy... it's who white folks listen to about anything period.

The algorithm elevates content created by white folks because we live in a racist society. The background (i.e., ambient) racism of our society means that white content creators are going to have a leg up, that is be of more interest to more people (especially whatever subset of YT users are themselves white; I imagine PoC YT users get classified somewhat differently by the algorithm so might not experience such a deluge but it's super hard to determine that), which creates this feedback loop where whiteness reinforces whiteness. You see white content creators because other people want to see white content creators, even if it is subconscious. This creates a situation where the bar to entry for nonwhite creators is higher, thus discouraging them further.
posted by axiom at 11:46 AM on June 5 [10 favorites]


Maybe one day I'll find the cost-benefit analysis to be in my favor, but for now I'm not interested in putting in any more work just for the sake of people who like me for free but don't think I'm worth paying for.

What sucks is that this is part of the cycle--POC not only have to work harder for payoff (if it ever comes), but on average are less likely to have the finances and free time to put in the initial load of free labor it takes to get one's stuff out there. The twice as much for half phenomenon again.


But I don't know what to do about this dynamic of homosocial (in the sense of white people more innately trusting what other white people say) social justice


What gets me about this is that the formal research on how opinions change indicates that members of the privileged group are more likely to be affected by conversations with members of the marginalized group. Which makes me wonder how much the research "scripts" have to do with it. They are probably more likely to be designed by members of the privileged group themselves (since they're more likely to be the researchers) and I bet the marginalized people initiating the scripts are carefully coached on how to deliver them in a way that walks the line between challenging the privileged opinion without expressing the (authentic) emotion that might infringe on the fragility of the privileged. I also don't know if those opinion changing research has been done with race.

And I also wonder if constant exposure to the opinions and authentic emotions of the marginalized might actually inure the privileged to those very things. Which, like, if that's the case then the marginalized person who wants to change minds is now faced with being a robot constantly expending even more emotional labor than they must normally do to walk the research-certified opinion-changing line--or protect themselves and withdraw entirely. i.e. exactly the choice you faced

In the first Avengers movie there's that moment where Bruce Banner says his secret is that "he's always angry" before he Hulks out. And just, as a woman, I felt that, and it was cathartic to see a character express that anger and be celebrated for it (I have to gloss over the fact that he's a white cis male, and that it's what makes the anger acceptable to the movie audience). Because what would that be like, to express one's authentic emotion and be cheered? And I'm a queer woman, but white, cis, not impoverished, etc--I'm not dealing with the intersectional emotion that comes from existing with all the other axes of marginalization.

By the last movie the catharsis is gone--the authentic emotion is a bad thing, he has the most power when he balances the "humanity" and the emotion. It is portrayed as finding peace--but if one's anger is wholly justified then the peace is coming from a degree of acceptance of the injustice, a degree of repression. It's one thing to be Zen about the little injustices, about your Starbucks order being wrong or some shit, but systemic oppression? It was somewhat of a disappointment and didn't have the same catharsis, because it felt like it was back to the message that the only way it is OK to be marginalized is if you lock yourself up as Professor Hulk. (again, the fact that marginalization is represented by the supersmart cis white guy is a whole thing to itself)

anyway I'm talking about the Hulk in a thread about LeftTube so I'll stop now
posted by schroedinger at 4:17 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I agree that always being angry/aggravated (by micro aggressions) is one of the few things I would agree is in common, despite intersectionality's warning against saying so, among most minority and marginalized experiences.
posted by kalessin at 6:00 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I loved this video. Thank you for posting it.
posted by odinsdream at 1:07 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:33 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


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