By now, the garden variety YouTube apology is an easily recognizable art form: Puffy eyes, a sparse background, a vague title — and in the middle of it, a famous creator who’s done something very, very wrong.
The latest star to tread this familiar road is also one of the platform’s earliest success stories. Shane Dawson, who has been active on YouTube for 12 years and whose main channel boasts 22.6 million subscribers, recently posted a video apologizing for, among other things, using blackface and saying the N-word in his early videos.
In the 20-minute video, titled “Taking accountability,” the 31-year-old Dawson apologizes for early videos in which he played “stereotypes of Black people, or Asian people, or Mexicans, or pretty much every race.”
“I’m sorry that I added to the normalization of blackface, or the normalization of saying the n-word,” he says.
Shane Dawson was among the first crop of young people to make it big on YouTube. In 2008 when Dawson first started making videos, he was about 20 years old and the nascent YouTube was far from the star-making, paradigm-shifting online giant it would become. Dawson initially began his career with comedy sketches, but found larger success with documentary-style content, conspiracy deep-dives and interviews with other YouTube celebrities. His apology video has more than 10 million views.
In detailing his past transgressions, Dawson also makes it clear that his sudden mea culpa was inspired by the coming-clean of another influential YoTube elder, Jenna Marbles.
Marbles recently announced she was leaving YouTube after being called out for a 2011 video in which she impersonates Nicki Minaj. Her departure was mourned by many in the YouTube community who claim Marbles, 33, was one of the platform’s most important and conscientious creators. Her announcement also led some fans to point the finger at Dawson and others whom they felt deserved more criticism.
Dawson and Marbles are the latest public names forced to reckon with their past as the country undergoes a cultural audit after weeks of protests and the high-profile deaths of several Black Americans. Brands are changing their racially-tinged names, states are reconsidering their problematic symbols, and influential creators who have built their careers online are learning that the internet really is forever.