Kat Blaque Defies Racist Tropes by Going Against the Current
What she thought were once her allies, only turned out to be just as flawed as their ideological opponents.
After the American presidential elections of 2016, I was like many people, disillusioned by rural America’s will to elect such a racist unhinged caricature of a powerful elite into office. They were sold a promise on a dream that the way things were, will all of a sudden be, and the constant yelling at history to stop its course, would have finally been within grasp. That was a motivating factor for me to get more interested into the inner workings of American politics, but also, engage a lot of the voices vying for change–of whom most notably, there were ardent-leftists with views challenging the very foundation of the American ideal. Not a lust for power, or looking to fulfill a capitalistic fantasy–but a more earnest push towards socially progressive policies, and a more equitable social fabric that would come to benefit all at the expense of none, and not the uttermost rich, to the detriment of all.
I don’t think I was alone in that. There was a sudden cultural push towards more left-leaning ideals ever since the far-right’s grip on politics proved not only dangerous, but in some cases, absolutely fatal to minorities’ lives. I henceforth from across the pond, made the acquaintance of many social media influencers of such tenure, and was able to meet their ideological counterparts in the process. What seemed like a welcoming, and very “on the cutting edge of social progress” kind of movement, soon turned into a self-indulgent conquest for the vilest forms of social capitalism–one where clout merely substituted money; and it appeared like no one was going back on their propos when launching into offense. Rifts grew wider, other people left Twitter, or in my particular case, a major controversy of ethical proportions forced me to distance myself away from purity tests altogether. Callout and outrage culture were no longer for me, and it not only managed to improve my mental health ten-fold–it also helped me reassess a lot of what was — in particular — wrong in Jack Dorsey’s interpretation of what a social media platform should function as.
This shift wasn’t only confined to Twitter, nor was it exclusive to spectators; sometimes, the very actors instigating those very trends started to feel it was becoming unsustainable–Kat Blaque was such an individual, and her pivot towards a more inclusive form of dialogue was expectedly met with notable disinterest.
Kat Blaque had been previously on a sizeable period of hiatus where she’d according to her own words, recorded so much backlog and was going to upload all of it in doses as to allow her a more favorable schedule moving forward. Some fruit of that labor turned into what is now known as the “JSYK” series, which pits Kat Blaque with guests of unconventional vices and outlooks on life. She was able to dive into the uncharted territory of BDSM as a subverted way to self-empower; how religion can be an equally as helpful part of queer identity as the faith itself; the inefficacy of coddling away racism; defiantly indulging into witchcraft while being black; the toxic rhetoric about normalizing smooth skin for women; and the unusual sight of a black woman practicing Sikhi–those were all amazing interviews and so much of what they were able to unveil is that the voices we’re so grown to see dissent against, are not given enough reach, and aren’t given the platform that is afforded to their detractors. Kat Blaque unfortunately saw a lower engagement number for what has been a passion project for her, and I think I have at least some element of truth into what permitted this to slip under the radar with relative ease.
This is not the first time I’ve mentioned vehement criticism of reactionary politics on YouTube. I think they’re so inherently destructive to the cause, and their perpetuity can cause a lot of issues to our credibility as a sociopolitical movement in the long run, but what I think is the biggest culprit in today’s environment of social justice advocacy, is the culture of fetishized burnout it brings along with it.
It’s a well-documented fact at this point that ContraPoints — one of YouTube’s major figureheads of armchair philosophy — overworks herself to exhaustion so that the videos can come out in a timely manner–such is the Patreon obligation-fulfillment conundrum. While Patreon allows an alternative way for creators to supplement their income — or in some cases, fully substitute it — it also encourages creators to seek more ways to grow their audience, and that in turn, transforms into a surrogate justification for churning out content on the regular, despite the absence of an instantaneous financial deterrent from doing so. You work for yourself, but you also work to further increase the spoils, and that can create a very dangerous feedback loop where someone might perceive their work as inadequate if it’s not getting the views that seldom they used to get. YouTube is an integral part of that puzzle as well, but I don’t think it’s nearly as big of a culprit as the flipside of disinterest from social progress advocacy fanatics–it’s the duality of wanting to see change, without putting in the intellectual effort to see it through.
Twitter has been a very useful macrocosm to examine. Not only because anyone with the slightest grasp on the platform can suddenly code a behavior as unwanted or undesirable, but because that perpetuity of speech policing continues to feast on, and feed into itself. What you get is a vicious feedback loop where everyone, everywhere, at all times, are angry. And if they don’t see any signal from afar that it is what they should do, they will not participate. Kat Blaque’s new pivot towards introspection and contemplating the groups we’re sworn to transform the lives of through social and political change isn’t only a subversive attempt at directing discourse towards a more fruitful avenue, but it’s also an acknowledgment that being an attack lapdog just waiting for the latest prey to chew on is untenable. It’s a bad audience strategy, and it’s one that demands constant engagement to be of any workable use. If you’re not pissed off at someone for something, at any given day, your street cred auprès the Lords of Reactionary Politics will be put into question.
Alternatively, there’s the cultural message social justice advocacy seems to be pushing onto black women–they’re expected to spearhead a movement of political change where our only task to support, is to cheer them along and never truly ponder the intricacies of the literature that inspires them. It’s considered gratifying to see Kat Blaque dig her proverbial fangs into some far-right troll– but why is it so? Why is it that those who consider themselves to be at the bleeding brink of social progress, enjoy the sight of a black woman getting angry? I don’t proclaim to have an easy and definitive answer to this, but the only way it could seem to make sense, is if it was a wider cultural phenomenon than a specific trait to this community–and indeed it was.
Last year, at the US Open, a national conversation took place surrounding Serena Williams’ behavior amid a controversial loss to Naomi Osaka at the final. There has been fine reporting from the usual suspects on the issue, but what I found interesting was BBC’s take on it, and specifically, Ritu Prasad relaying Blair Kelley, associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, as she describes the very roots of this perception in the American consciousness:
The “angry black woman” trope has its roots in 19th Century America, when minstrel shows, which involved comic skits and variety acts, mocking African Americans became popular.
[She] says black women were often played by overweight white men who painted their faces black and donned fat suits “to make them look less than human, unfeminine, ugly”.
“Their main way of interacting with the men around them was to scream and fight and come off angry, irrationally so, in response to the circumstances around them,” she [adds].
What that informed me particularly — as someone fully removed from the American context of racism — is that it wasn’t only that people saw black women being angry as the default, but they also sought to repress that behavior and declare it foul, and socially unacceptable.
That is horrible. To be told that anger is the standard way you act, while also conveying forth a message that it is reprehensible, is the epitome of being sent mixed messages from the dominant group — in this case, white people — on the best way to behave. It is undoubtedly a natural extension of slavery-era tropes of racism. Not only that, but it continues so much of the natural discourse surrounding black women, and what is perceived to be their ideal state when decrying instances of injustice in and around the political spectrum.
Kat Blaque is ultimately her own individual, and is allowed to make decisions on her own terms, only to her own and sole satisfaction. But in watching her “Why I’m Rebranding my Channel” video, I realized that she’s not only grown tired of enacting the stereotype of an angry black woman, but she also figured while it was justified, it only further entrenched her brand into something she did not wish to see bolstered in the space surrounding her.
My criticisms of YouTube could probably make up thrice this entry’s length, but what those boil down to essentially, is that the very algorithms that power our media consumption habits, are fueled by our own user-generated behavior. The Jake Paul’s and Shane Dawson’s of the world wouldn’t be so popular if there wasn’t genuine interest on part of potential audience to tune in and revel in the hollowness that has become 20+ million subs vlogging YouTube channels–it’s not a platform where one can grow social consciousness when it was the very thing most users haven’t signed up for. So as was fully expected, those who tuned in to see their own racial biases towards black women confirmed, were no longer to be found when Kat Blaque turned that ship around and was able to transcend her perceived personality. That in and of itself, is as strongest an indictment of reactionary YouTube lefties as there could possibly be.
I didn’t mention specifically what had turned me away from engaging the reactionary side of social media, but I should clarify that one major deciding factor was the response to TotalBiscuit’s death. It highlighted one of the major issues in what has been the lukewarm audience response to Kat Blaque’s content pivot–mob mentality.
Virtue-signaling is often used to nefarious ends, but in this case, I think there are virtues to be signaled when engaging the very toxic space that has become reactionary politics, either on the left, or on the right. You’re expected to act a certain way, and in deviating from that, you not only strip yourself of potential eyeballs, but it is expected as equally from others to turn their heads away and not pay attention unless they’re being told to do so, or have half-coherently agreed that they’d all do so. This is the risk one runs by engaging a platform of online discussion when relying on collective participation in approaching issues of social cruciality–there’s no guarantee anyone will follow you to the deep ends, or will denounce a legitimately bad thing you did; whether the intent is earnest, or fundamentally flawed. It’s why the ContraPoints’ and the Hbomberguy’s of the world still boast consistently more views than the smaller channels that are more focused on facticity and accessibility–if your videos are exempt from any form of collective discussion predicated on the explicit assault against an individual, or a group’s character, they’re primordially doomed to fail.
Did I watch some of what I now consider as absolutely abhorrent? Of course. I don’t think anyone remotely engaged in radical leftist discourse hasn’t at least had a single whiff of that particular strand of content. What I’m worried about however, is a relentless push towards making it an expected standard–that if you don’t scream profusely on a camera, decrying the behavior of whom are deemed to be inferior, your contributions are of no significance. That is all false, and to distance ourselves away from it, couldn’t be more urgent.
I watch ContraPoints still — as an example of a social justice oriented channel making the rounds recently — but I do recognize the futility of considering it one’s sole source of knowledge. That’s the trap I see so many of who I considered to be friends falling into. They’re not only festering a perfect breeding ground of verbal violence to become the norm, but they’ve also completely neglected the necessity of fostering a community founded on the tenants of inclusivity, and intersectionality. It’s all but a game of political influence to some, wherein the toughest gets to pierce through cultural barriers the hardest, but is that a world we want to live in? Does YouTube need any more toxicity than it already has?
I’ve realized this all a bit too late, and shifted my watching habits from people tearing others down, into others lifting everyone up. What that entailed is unsubscribing from the likes of Hbomberguy, and subscribing to some amazing videographers; such as Lizzie Pierce, Klossy, Iz and Johnny Harris, Peter McKinnon, Hannah Ziad and many others who deserve endless praise for their appeal to inclusivity. They’ve not only made great strides in being inviting, and banking on positivity over negativity, but they allowed for a community to grow that does not actively rejoice from seeing them angry. They’ve given themselves the affordance to be happy–and for happiness to be a vehicle for their passion, and not an indication of stalemate. That is the reason why I love the new Kat Blaque, and why I’ll continue watching her, should she not choose to give up and come back to habits of times past.