Vlogging While Black

How to strike it big on YouTube.

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For every breakout YouTube star such as Souljah Boy and Susan Boyle, there are thousands of would-be-video diarists, or vloggers, uploading away in obscurity. The lucky vloggers, such as “Fred,” gain more than 1 million followers. Played by 15-year-old Lucas Cruikshank, “Fred” banks six figures from major product placements and revenue from ads on his videos—short zany pieces with Cruikshank acting out his character, an ADD-afflicted 6-year-old too often left to his own devices. Ditto for Michael Buckley, another top user.

A few black vloggers are beginning to make a splash on the scene. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. “YouTube is very, very white,” explained Tonya, the blogger from TonyaTKO, who has 22,000 subscribers. With so many videos being uploaded, vloggers vie for prime placement on YouTube’s home page. “It’s very hard for black people to get seen on YouTube.” Like the many types of media that came before YouTube, the black vloggers who get noticed can often fit a stereotype. From the bizarre to the hilarious to the inspirational, here’s a sampling of some of the up-and-coming black vloggers and their winning formula:

 

For her over 22,000 subscribers, TonyaTKO focuses on empowering people. Her often lengthy videos—any clip over five minutes is long in YouTube time, while hers are often over 10 minutes—focus on personal, political and cultural issues, but Tonya tries to keep her opinion to herself. “When you put out negativity, you get negativity back,” she told me. “I just wanted to do things that would make me laugh and make other people smile.” Even still, she recognizes you cannot stop hate on the site. “People called me … all kinds of stuff,” she told me, but she does not reciprocate. “Negativity breeds negativity.”

Mr. Pregnant inhabits more than a few stereotypes and personae, and he plays it up for the camera in a kind of post-modern minstrelsy. As one of the more popular performers on the site—over 30,000 subscribers—his dominance worries those on the site who try to counteract stereotypes. A self-described “enigma,” Mr. Pregnant is a nightmare for anyone concerned with black representation in the media. In an online interview, he told me his viewers slap him with every slur available. But, he said, “if someone called me ‘intelligent,’ I'd probably commit suicide.” Barack Obama he is not, but some would call him an artist.

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