Inspired by fellow YouTube star Jenna Marbles’ recent apology for videos that included an impersonation of Nicki Minaj and racist Asian jokes, YouTube’s Shane Dawson, whose given name is Shane Lee Yaw, posted a video on June 26 titled “Taking Accountability” addressing, amongst other things, his use of blackface in past sketch comedy videos. “I’m going to start with all the racism I put onto the internet as an adult, not a child. I was at least 20 when I started YouTube, and I made the decision to play stereotypes of Black people, or Asian people, or Mexicans, or pretty much every race,” he explained. ”I made that decision. I said, ‘Oh this is funny,’ and I put that on the internet.” After joining the platform in 2008, Dawson rose to YouTube fame with comedy sketches, as well as musical parodies and his own original songs as “Superluv!”, before segueing into conspiracy theory videos and documentary-style profiles of other massively successful YouTubers like Jeffree Star and Jack Paul, both of which have proved extremely popular. His channel currently has 23 million subscribers, and has had more than 5.6 billion views.
“Blackface was something that I did a lot,” says Dawson, “There’s no excuse for it.” He reflects on his realization that his work made racist stereotypes more acceptable to his younger fans. “I’m sorry that I added to the normalization of blackface, or the normalization of saying the n-word. And my justification at the time for that was, ‘Oh, I was playing a character, and it was in comedy, and my Black friend was there, and that makes it okay.’ No, it’s not okay.” The YouTube star notes that he made an apology video for using blackface six years ago, but that his apology was “made from fear.” Says Dawson: “Me, as a white person, wearing a wig and playing a character and doing stereotypes, and then saying the n-word is something that I should have probably lost my career for at the time. There’s no amount of apologizing that can take it away.”
Dawson also apologizes for jokes about pedophilia and a fictional murder fantasy he spun about an unnamed woman on his podcast Shane and Friends, which ran for 140 episodes between 2013 and 2017, and to Black creator Franchesca Ramsey, known as ChescaLeigh on YouTube, who attempted to call out his comedy, and was targeted by Dawson’s fans with racist abuse. “At this point, realizing how many people I’ve hurt or how many people I’ve inspired to say awful things, or do anything awful, to finally just own up to all of this and be accountable, is worth losing everything to me, ” Dawson says. “I promise I’m going to do better to educate myself and put more people on my channel that aren’t just white YouTubers in trouble.” You can watch his entire video below.
Update, June 28: Franchesca Ramsey has made it clear that Shane Dawson’s apology isn’t close to being sufficient. In a series of Twitter messages from June 27 and June 28, Ramsey called out YouTube for giving Dawson such a large video platform. “Hey YouTube, why have some of the biggest creators on the platform been allowed to monetize videos with ‘jokes’ about sexual abuse, pedophilia, racial slurs, and blackface? And not one video. Hundreds of videos with millions of views? What was the ad revenue share on your end?” she wrote. “Putting my name and Twitter handle in your apology video for your 23 million subscriber audience was … a choice. My Instagram DMs are a fucking mess. Awesome.” Ramsey also shared a Twitter thread about Dawson’s history of sexualizing young children.