Should past comments, racist behavior ruin the popularity of top YouTubers?

September 23, 2018 — by Sandhya Sundaram

Should past comments of Youtubers, affect their current reputation?

Through content like beauty videos, makeup tutorials, story times and challenge videos, YouTubers like Tana Mongeau, Jeffree Star and Laura Lee have gained millions of subscribers and followers.

But their popularity has been endangered recently after newly uncovered footage and tweets came to light exposing offensive and racist comments made by the three in the past.

Jeffree Star, now a 32-year-old self-made provocative musician, makeup artist, influencer and founder of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, was slammed by Twitter users in May 2017 for his history of racist comments that he made as a 19-year-old. Footage of Star openly using the n-word and offensive language and involving in public disputes with other influencers divided his viewers into dedicated supporters and people who wanted nothing to do with him.

Recently, conspiracy theorist and documentary YouTuber Shane Dawson filmed a series that dug into Star’s life as an influencer. The series included behind-the-scenes footage of Star’s business as well as personal details of his life.

Dawson’s documentary showed Star’s huge warehouses, offices and the production side of Jeffree Star Cosmetics. Dawson also talked to Star about his personal life, bringing up Star’s battle with depression, self-harm and struggles to find his identity. Star apologized for his racist comments, saying that he directed his anger badly when he was 19 and depressed. Many fans felt that this series humanized Star by showing aspects of his life he had never exposed to the camera.

Star wants to move on from his past, but people continue to dig up information and cause drama. While some claim that a person’s past is part of who they are, and the offensive comments Star made shouldn’t be ignored, others argue that this behavior happened 13 years ago and he has since grown into a completely different person.

Junior Veda Sethuraman, an avid Star fan, feels that Star has a great personality, but thinks he constantly receives unnecessary backlash for actions and words he said when he was in a troubled stage of his life.

“I just think he’s a person that’s different and untraditional compared to most famous people,” Sethuraman said. “Everyone makes mistakes and I guess he’s just someone that comes off as harsh and judgemental.”

Sethuraman said that watching Dawson’s videos and learning about Star’s childhood and early adulthood struggles made her realize that he was “polarized because of who he was and who he wanted to be.”

As a teenager, Star felt incapable of expressing his gender identity, and suffered from depression. Although he identifies as a man, Star dresses and behaves in an androgynous manner, with masculine and feminine characteristics.

Similar to Star, Mongeau, famous for her “story time” YouTube videos, was exposed for making racist remarks in early 2017 after she confronted fellow YouTuber iDubbbz for using words like the n-word and “retard.” iDubbbz responded with a compilation of Mongeau saying the n-word, spurring Twitter wars and dividing Mongeau’s followers.

Mongeau made a tearful apology in a video and got attacked for monetizing it. Her subscriber count plummeted. Now, a year and a half later, Mongeau has managed to move on after an apology and going back to her old content, continuing to successfully reach a wide audience on her channel.

Most recently, beauty guru Laura Lee received backlash for her old racist and fat-shaming tweets. Lee had tweeted, “Tip for all black people if you pull ur pants up you can run from the police faster… #yourwelcome,”  in 2012.

Lee also said on Twitter, “How do you blindfold a Chinese person? Put floss over their eyes,” among many other blatantly racist comments.

In her apology, Lee blamed her upbringing for these comments.

“As a small town girl from Alabama I wish I had the cultural education six years ago that I have now,” Lee said.

On the other hand, Lee made those tweets when she was 24, an old enough age to know better.

Fans felt that Lee had faked tears and sought sympathy instead of addressing the issue and owning up to her mistakes. Her racist comments could not be credited to ignorance or naivety because they were statements with harmful intentions, meant to stereotype and degrade other people.

Prior to the scandal, Lee celebrated reaching 5 million subscribers. But in the month of August alone, Lee lost almost 600,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, according to Social Blade.

Unlike the cases of Star and Mongeau, Lee argued that she was young and ignorant, a not believable excuse since she was an adult when she made those remarks. Furthermore, her apology barely addressed the issues and was viewed more as seeking pity and dodging blame than owning up to her mistakes.

Some people may not know or fully comprehend the hatred and years of mistreatment captured in racial slurs; however, making deliberate comments about a race and stereotyping is something that cannot be attributed to ignorance.

Sethuraman sympathizes with Star and other Youtubers who have owned up and apologized for their mistakes. “Because of who [they are], it’s publicized and people will always give them so much grief about it,” Sethuraman said.