Shane Dawson, one of YouTube’s biggest creators, addressed racist and offensive videos from his past in a new 20-minute video Friday where he said his previous apologies were not good enough.
Dawson, who has nearly 23 million subscribers, rose to fame on the platform about 10 years ago doing comedy sketches, which often included blackface and performing as characters who perpetuated racist stereotypes. The 31-year-old internet celebrity has previously apologized for his videos, but said that those apologies were just excuses.
“Blackface was something I did a lot — like, I did it a lot on my channel — and there’s no excuse for it. There’s literally no excuse,” Dawson said. “I made a video six years ago talking about it and I gave excuses. And I knew it was wrong, I never wanted to do it again, but I didn’t do the work. I didn’t actually look into the history of it and why it’s so wrong, and why people were so upset.”
He said that he was sorry for contributing to the normalization of blackface and the N-word, realizing his sketches made his young audience believe those things were funny when they were not.
“I’m so sorry to anybody who saw that and that also saw that people were lifting me up and were saying ‘You’re so funny, Shane, oh my god you’re so funny,” Dawson said. “I can’t even put myself in that headspace, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be Black and see this white f------ guy do blackface and the whole internet at that time being like, lol.”
Dawson said he has since looked into the history of blackface and how it was used to oppress Black people. Blackface in America began in the early 1800s, when white performers darkened their skin to mock Black people in minstrel shows.
White performers, usually men, derided Black slaves by characterizing them as lazy and ignorant. One of the most famous blackface characters was "Jim Crow," performed by Thomas Rice, which is often cited in the naming of the Jim Crow laws used to deny Black Americans their civil rights after the end of slavery.
Dawson also addressed jokes he’s made about pedophilia by creating a “child molester character” in videos, one of which included sexualizing Willow Smith when she was only 11.
Jada Pinkett Smith and her son Jaden Smith responded to Dawson on Twitter Saturday, though he did not directly address the Willow Smith video.
“SHANE DAWSON I AM DISGUSTED BY YOU,” Jaden tweeted. “YOU SEXUALIZING AN 11 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO HAPPENS TO BE MY SISTER!!!!!! IS THE FURTHEST THING FROM FUNNY AND NOT OKAY IN THE SLIGHTEST BIT.”
Pinkett Smith simply tweeted to Dawson, "I'm done with the excuses."
Dawson explained to his audience that he made the terrible jokes instead of dealing with his own personal issues and past childhood traumas. The 31-year-old creator admitted he should have just “gone to therapy” and dealt with his problems rather than putting those things on the internet.
“When I say I hate that person, I mean it in the most intense way possible. I hate that person so much,” Dawson said. “That person was filled with sadness, filled with anger about their own issues, in the closet, constantly projecting on others. I don’t know ... that person is someone I don’t like seeing.”
The 20-minute video from Dawson, entitled “Taking Accountability,” was posted just a day after fellow YouTuber Jenna Marbles said she would be leaving the platform after making racist jokes and blackface videos in the early years of her career.
While the response to Marbles’ video was mixed, many called out the fact that other YouTubers had a much more extensive history with blackface and racist sketches, including Dawson. Dawson also said in his video he realizes that some people will never forgive him for his actions.
Some responded to Dawson’s Friday video with commentary about how the man has grown in the years since, but the majority of responses insisted that his behavior as an adult was inexcusable, no matter what trauma he endured. Critics also pointed out that it is not the place of white fans to accept an apology that was meant for the Black, Asian, Latinx, and LGBTQ people who were mocked by Dawson.
Social Blade, a third-party website that tracks YouTuber analytics such as video and subscriber numbers, reports that Dawson has lost about 300,000 followers on his channel between Friday and Sunday morning.
Dawson said in his video that he should have lost his career over the videos and that he accepts that he should lose everything still today, but unlike Marbles he did not say he would stop making videos. He instead told fans he wants to do better with the videos he creates and open up his platform to be more inclusive.