The Representation and Diversity Online panel at Summer in the City 2019 took place on Sunday in Panel Room A. It was moderated by Taha Khan, and featured Mac Kahey, Gabriel Sey, Ray Roberts, Channette Carleo, and Michelle Elman.
Taha began by asking all the panellists how much time they spend thinking about representing their ethnicity when making content, stating that he feels the need to be an upstanding Muslim. Gabriel agreed that there is high pressure to represent your ethnicity in a positive light, and explained that the stigma that comes with being a black dad is something he aims to combat, though he tries not to let the pressure consume him. Michelle said that people often tell her she is very outspoken “for an Asian”, and that simply by existing she is fighting the stereotype that she shouldn’t exist. Channette added that as a black woman any passion is viewed as aggression and she refuses to tone down her passion, and Gabriel agreed, saying that hiding that passion would be wrong. Ray explained that because he is half British and half Filipino, he is often not seen as either, and he only recently embraced his racial identity – largely out of respect for his mother, whose culture he wanted to learn about.
Taha then asked the panellists how they feel diversity on YouTube is handled by YouTube itself, and whether they feel welcome at events like Summer in the City. Channette stated that she often looks around at events to see that she is the only person of colour in the room. She pointed out that there was only one stall for black creators in the Summer in the City hall this year, and there were very few meet-and-greets organised for black creators, and therefore there fundamentally isn’t as much at YouTube events if you aren’t white. Mac said he feels there is too large a focus on representation and not enough on integration, and Michelle added that for an event to actually be inclusive you can’t just put diverse creators on panels about being diverse. She added that she is often the only plus-sized Asian in the room which makes speaking up very hard, and even when she does it often leads to nothing: she once mentioned that there should be more diversity at an event and the PR person she was speaking to did not respond.
Channette said that white creators at events that are not diverse should speak up and ask why other races aren’t at the event – because they have more privilege, they are more likely to be listened to. Gabriel added that until he was on this panel he felt like the token non-white person on every panel he had been on. Channette agreed, and pointed out that many people want to move past race because everybody on the panel is talented and does a lot of work.
Questions were then opened up to the audience, and the panellists were asked whether there were any panels they feel they could have contributed to that they were not put on. Michelle named the Body Positivity panel, as that is precisely the area she works in. Gabriel said he was on the Health & Fitness and Family Vlogging panels, which are what he would hope for, although he felt he was the token non-white person in both situations. Mac explained that the panels he appeared on were not related to his content which is comedy, and that he was not on a panel for anything comedy-based at the event.
The panellists were then asked about the spaces in which they were welcomed. Michelle explained she has a level of palatability as she is half-white and her scarring isn’t always visible, meaning she is often picked over people who are deemed less palatable for tokenistic diversity. Taha added that he has run this exact panel four times, and feels he is deemed more palatable due to having a soft-spoken British accent. Michelle added that she was told she got her book deal due to having a white-sounding name, and that being mixed-race comes with a degree of privilege. Gabriel relayed attending a job interview only for the person conducting the interview to see him and say, “Oh! You’re black!”
Next, the panellists were asked if they felt this particular panel was a positive or negative thing for improving diversity at the event. Channette stated the panel is important, but non-white people should be on other panels too. Michelle added that within body positivity groups, there is a lack of the uplifting of all marginalised bodies, not just plus-sized bodies. Ray added that it is very easy PR to have a panel like this to “tick the diversity box” but that this dialogue is still incredibly important. Taha stated that there is no other panel to talk about this issue, and said he feels creators should not be put on this panel at their first event, but on other panels in order to show that their value within their niche is respected. Channette added that although a lot more black creators are invited to events like this, hardly any are posted on the main page, which ultimately leads to fewer people of colour attending the event as they don’t know who is here. Ray added that forced diversity is very easy to notice.
Finally the panel were asked if they feel a sense of isolation from white creators. Michelle said she didn’t feel hostility until she started speaking up about a lack of diversity, and until then she liked to believe the lack of diversity was accidental, but she has been uninvited from events for bringing up these issues. Chanette re-emphasised that panels should be diverse because that allows conversations to start. (Gabriel added that he wouldn’t know, because instead of going into the green room he went for a nap in his car.)
Photos by George Yonge.
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