Margaret Paul

Cannon Editor


TW: Child abuse; pedophilia; discussions of racism

In recent days, popular old-school YouTubers Shane Dawson and Jenna Mourey (Marbles) have addressed past behaviours for which they have drawn criticism. Mourey and Dawson have been on YouTube for over a decade and were known for being edgy sketch comedians who exaggerated daily life. 

Mourey was called out over Black-face done when she portrayed Nicki Minaj in a sketch, and over racist lyrics and an outfit in a parody song, which were offensive to the Asian community. In her video, A Message, Mourey plays clips of the videos, which have both been private for many years she says, and apologizes for her racist behaviour. She further apologizes for her once-viral “Girls vs Guys” videos in which she commented upon stereotypes of cisgender women and men. She stated that she felt remorse for the videos about gender stereotypes, especially because she felt they weren’t inclusive of non-cisgender people. Mourey is among the rare few Internet personalities to “self-cancel,” stating that she would take time off from her channel, either temporarily or permanently. This was met with both praise and criticism from the broader community. While Mourey has largely been met with widespread encouragement (hashtags in support of her trended world-wide the day she posted her video), Dawson has been met with a much different reception.

Dawson, most known for his documentary-style series on controversial figures like Jake Paul, Tana Mongeau and Jeffree Star, posted Taking Accountability in which he discusses past racist videos and comments “joking” about pedophilia. He begins by stating that Jenna’s video “inspired” his apology. Currently, the most publicly noted issue is a video that resurfaced of Dawson behaving extremely inappropriately in front of a poster of then-11-year-old Willow Smith (I can’t describe the video, but it isn’t not very difficult to find online if you’re so inclined). In his apology, he claims that because of his traumatic childhood and own experience with child abuse, Dawson made those kinds of “jokes”. 

Justifications like these weren’t accepted by the wider audience, nor by Willow’s brother, Jaden, nor their mother, Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith tweeted on June 27, “To Shane Dawson … I’m done with the excuses.” Smith tweeted, “Shane Dawson I am disgusted by you. Sexualizing an 11-year-old girl who happens to be my sister… This man was also doing Black face on the regular. As youth we need to support creators who support us and our morals. This is not okay.” Dawson hasn’t publicly responded to the Smiths as of writing.

Dawson further apologized for past Black-face, which range from darkly bronzing his skin to painting his face pitch-black. The instances of Black-face include a racist caricature called “Shanaynay”, who was a mainstay on his channel. Notably, though Dawson has apologized for characters like “Shanaynay”, a t-shirt bearing her likeness is still available for sale online. In the last 30 days, as of June 29th, Dawon’s mainly used channel, as of recent, “shane” has lost 600 thousand subscribers, while over 1.2 billion views, all stemming from controversial videos, have been deleted. Jenna Marbles has also deleted nearly 2 billion views from her channel, all originating from the videos for which she has experienced criticism.

Another recent controversy of Dawson’s includes a 2015 video of Dawson playing a game with fellow Youtubers Nikki Limo and Steve Greene called “Talking Sh*t” in which the players had to make “jokes” about different people as pulled from a bucket of names. In the video, Dawson can be seen “joking” about the murder of Trayvon Martin, saying “Maybe you wouldn’t be walking around the streets if you had a job.” This regained attention after Jay Versace, an actor, comedian and musician most known from Vine, tweeted out the video on June 28th, saying, “[It] brings tears. You give people a voice and this is how they use it. I don’t even have words for how trash… how do you use Black children getting killed for laughter and enjoyment…the deep-rooted hatred and despise is crazy.” 

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks Dawson has found himself in trouble with the YouTube community. He tweeted a long essay expressing his dislike of the beauty community and discussed how he found beauty gurus to be “…egocentric, narcissistic, vengeful, two-faced ticking time bombs…” He claimed to have created his mega-popular docu-series about guru Jeffree Star for the love of makeup and of Jeffree, and not to document any “drama”. However, as many have pointed out, and as I will as well, despite Dawson’s seeming remorse for his racist sketches and attempts to distance himself from beauty drama, he in the same breath defends Jeffree Star. 

Star has been the centre of many past controversies and claims of racist behaviours. These include him calling Black beauty guru Jackie Aina a “rat”; wearing dreadlocks in a 2020 photoshoot for his brand (and responding to the controversy by posting a photo of himself in cornrows in the following days); and “joking” in a skit about throwing battery acid on a Black woman to “lighten her skin” to match her foundation. Star did apologize in 2017 for the comments about a battery acid attack. Jackie Aina tweeted after Star’s comments against her in 2018, “Never forget that Jeffree Star will call Black women rats, uneducated, and broke when they do not worship him.” Dawson notably referred to Jeffree Star as “family” in his essay on the beauty community. The point being, it’s worth noting that there is a difference between distancing yourself from your own racist behaviours (saying you’re disgusted and “hate” the person you were a few years ago) and distancing yourself from people exhibiting racist behaviours around you. 

I think it’s also crucial to note that I’m not trying to say whether people should or should not accept Shane Dawson or Jenna Mourey’s apologies. As of the end of June, Dawson’s apology video has more likes than dislikes, which you can take as you will. As a white person, I think it’s important I acknowledge that the apologies in these videos are not directed at me. I’ve seen many white fans “forgiving” both Dawson and Mourey, telling them that neither have anything for which they need to apologize. I’m sure there are BIPOC who accept their apologies, and there are those who reject them. The point I’m aiming to make is there is an important discourse to be had in the era of holding people accountable for racist behaviours. 

It’s crucial to listen to the experiences of others around you and to accept and acknowledge the way the majority feel, even if it makes you upset or uncomfortable. There is certainly something to be said about the end of the “edgy” old-school YouTube era. Personally, I don’t believe this to be the result of Gen Z being more sensitive than the Millennials who were coming up on YouTube during the early years, rather, it’s indicative of audiences growing wise to problematic things their favourite creators have done. It’s also a product of people outside of minority groups learning and recognizing racist behaviours that went over their heads when they were younger; I’m guilty of not realizing Shanaynay was racist until I was around 12 years old. The fact that I used to watch videos with her and laugh at them is something that makes me feel really ashamed and uncomfortable. But, it’s important not to tell the groups affected how to feel, nor to impose your opinion on whether they should accept or reject the apologies. Even more important is to recognize when minorities tell you something is discriminatory and offensive – acknowledge that, and hold others accountable, especially at the expense of your own comfort and childhood nostalgia.

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