BookTube, as its name suggests, is supposed to be an open-minded, nerdy and non-discriminatory space on the internet purely dedicated to all things bookish. However, nothing is immune to drama – least of all anything associated with social media – and the book community has seen its fair share in recent years. From heated divisions between fans and haters of a series to adamant arguments about the vanity of Bookstagram, and, finally, to one of the most sensitive topics in any conversation: race.
As a faithful viewer of BookTube, it took me a bit to come to realization that race was an undeniable, unacknowledged factor in determining the success of a BookTuber. At first, I was completely oblivious to it, but that all changed when I stumbled across the first Asian BookTuber I’d ever seen. It took me years, granted, but I spotted her hiding behind a potted plant with only a handful of subscribers. I began to seek more representation, and that is when I got sucked into the maelstrom that’s been whirling backstage for a long time.
In the beginning, I’d just assumed that the predominant BookTubers were white. In reality, BookTube boasts thousands of YouTubers with a wide spectrum of backgrounds, but it’s the white demographic that receives the most attention. This comes as an ice-cold shock to readers like me, who have always heard the community preach about the importance of diversity — while operating under a system that contradicts that. As a minority myself, it strikes me as hypocritical and sanctimonious that such a flaw in the BookTube community has been brushed under the rug for so long.
While there will always be skeptics who refer to unfavorable chance, coincidence and luck, there certainly is substantial backing to corroborate this polarizing issue. The most glaring piece of evidence comes from the exorbitant differences between the most successful White BookTubers and Black Booktubers: Jesse the Reader, Christine Riccio, and Sasha Alsberg are White BookTubers who garner at least 300,000 subscribers on their YouTube channels … and two out of three of them even have their own published novels.
On the flip side, the most well-known African-American BookTuber to date is Naya Reads and Smiles, with only 58,000 subscribers, despite having been uploading videos for years. The different rates of progress between White BookTubers and Black BookTubers — and minorities, overall — is baffling, considering that they all put forth equal amounts of effort, passion and commitment. But what can account for these incongruities? The underlying prejudices that have afflicted the country since its birth? The stereotypes that manipulate the perception of Blacks and dictate their roles in society?
Perhaps it is merely the byproduct of not having enough Black authors, editors and characters in the book industry overall. A 2015 diversity survey by Lee & Low books showed that only 4 percent of employees across major publishing houses identified as Black, and that only 1 percent of the book reviewers identified as Black. Jennifer Baker, host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing, postulated, “The Black female community is the biggest consumer of books yet the industry still doesn’t give us range.”
“Book bloggers aren’t getting access to [review] materials because to publishers, they’re not seen as a viable marketing tool. The industry is not even reaching out to the alternate communities that are available and [is instead] focusing on the large, white dominant ones,” she elucidated. “So if you’re a Black blogger or Booktuber, that’s even more work. And that’s segregation and that’s racism and that’s all these things whether people want to say it or not.”
Many Black BookTubers have become fed up with this backwardness and have slowly started to verbalize their thoughts. Naya Reads and Smiles recently posted a discussion video on her channel addressing her experience, mentioning other Black BookTubers such as India Hill Brown, Christina Marie, and KaShawn Archer.
“If you look at other Black BookTubers, the main thing that they aren’t being given is opportunity. You look at things like BookTube panels, sponsorship videos, getting to work with publishing companies, getting to fly and do events — all these things personally have led to exponential growth of my channel. And if you look at who gets chosen for these opportunities the most, it’s White BookTubers,” Naya expressed candidly.
“I know one of the arguments on the other side is that Black Booktubers and Booktubers of color just don’t have the same numbers and that’s the reason why they aren’t getting opportunities. That’s an excuse. I personally was given opportunities when my numbers were not even a fraction of some other BookTubers that I was with.” In her over twenty-minute-long video, Naya also ventured into her emotional journey in surmounting the obstacles that arose from being a Black Booktuber, from deep pain to kinship with other Black BookTubers.
There’s absolutely nothing inimical or injudicious about the participation of White BookTubers and the amount of traction they gain, but rather about the inequalities Black BookTubers endure in comparison. Because the book community prospers under this optimistic, big-hearted umbrella, it’s often uncomfortable for them to confront the storm that rages around them. However, by balking and refusing to redress these grievances it is condoning the exacerbation of a bias that festers in the annals of racism. Nothing and no one is infallible, and I hope that more minority BookTubers will loosen their lips to censure this ignorance within BookTube.
Photo Courtesy of NayaReadsandSmiles