YouTube and blogs have played a significant role for women of colour. We weren’t represented in beauty mags and adverts, so we turned to YouTube to see ourselves. As a black woman, YouTube has helped me shape the way I see myself. It’s shown black women that are so many different ways we can be beautiful.
But while there are a fair amount of black female bloggers, they’re often not in the “ones to watch” or most popular list when searching on YouTube. If I want to look for a make-up tutorial for my skin, I have to add “for black women” at the end of the sentence. Otherwise, the general make-up videos that come up are all of white women.
If you’re lucky, you might see Patricia Bright – the only black influencer all mainstream brands appear to acknowledge. It’s great she’s managed to crack through to centre stage, but it’s something we need to see more of. Stars like Zoella, Tanya Burr and Louise Pentland have gained millions of subscribers and, subsequently, millions of coins by sharing their lives and expertise with the world.
But there are now hundreds of black women on YouTube who deserve to get to the same place. Their voices need to be heard, too, and it’s time advertisers and brands took notice. Often, it feels like brands look to white YouTubers more because they think that they can appeal to everyone, but that’s just not the case – women of colour are receiving the same amount of views as white YouTubers. Not only do they have the numbers the industry so often talks about, they also have the engagement that many of their top counterparts have – and often more.
YouTuber Nella Rose has 238K subscribers and is an influencer of colour, explains: “We're not seen as a priority, simply because we're not seen. Black professionals in this country are unrepresented in every field and YouTube is no different. The UK could be considered as a white country where white brands want to work with white influencers and, unfortunately, that's just the way it is.”
There are now hundreds of black women on YouTube who deserve to get to the same place. Their voices need to be heard, too, and it’s time advertisers and brands took notice
To her, “it's all about representation”. “When I was growing up,” she says, “I didn't have a lot of people to look up to who looked like me or sounded like me or even acted like me. As a teenager, I only had two women on YouTube to look to – Beauty by JJ and Peakmill. Now there’s more of us, so younger and even older girls and woman can know they can watch people they relate to.”
We couldn’t talk about black British female influencers without telling you who some of them are. My favourite black British YouTubers are Patricia Bright, who has 2.6m subscribers; Samantha Maria, who has 1.8 subscribers; and Nia The Light, who has 90k subscribers. Nella Rosa said she watches “Glamazontay, Annie Drea – she is sick at editing, she's really creative and you can tell it's her craft. Miss RFabulous – her storytimes are very funny. Lastly, Patricia Bright – her hauls are hilarious and really informative. There are lots. Black YouTubers are popping. I also like David Dobrik.”
I think one of the reasons women of colour are underrepresented in the online space is the idea that white people don’t want to watch women of colour. We’ve seen it in Hollywood when film executives tell directors or actors of colour that people won’t watch a film with an all-black or Asian cast. But 2018 officially dispelled this myth with movies such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians bringing in millions of dollars at the box office. If Hollywood is being forced to challenge their racial myths, the online space must do the same.
In order to tackle this issue, women of colour need to be advertised in the same way white YouTubers are. Women of colour should be included in lists like “female Youtubers to watch right now”. Brands also need to start paying attention. Young girls of colour like seeing brands acknowledge their favourite bloggers, so why aren’t they doing this? Branding companies need to realise these black British bloggers have an audience and should start hiring them.
Having an online space for black women has already changed the beauty industry. We’re now seeing brands such as Fenty and Revolution, with a wide range of beauty products for all shades, and pressure heaped on to other mainstream brands to follow suit. This is something a lot of women of colour have dreamt of seeing for decades.
But although we are seeing an overall change in diversity worldwide, it’s slow progress. It’s important for young black girls to continue seeing themselves online, and being celebrated there, as this is where many of them spend the majority of their time. For those who live in predominantly white areas, for example, being able to go online and see yourself changes the way you frame your identity.