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VIDEO STAFF, USA TODAY
Rita and Mirthell Mitchell started their YouTube channel, Onyx Family, in 2016 as a way to spend more time with their four kids. They made videos about playing little pranks on each other, creating relatable skits and telling stories.
“This would give us some opportunity to spend time together and have fun while making really good memories,” Rita Mitchell said. “I didn’t have any clue how people got money from this, but (YouTube) gave us the financial freedom to fully embrace this new way of being where we can build a brand together as a family.”
The Mitchells wanted to be able to make fun, regular content that embraced Black stories and culture, but weren’t
trauma-informed or focused on heavy topics like racism and police brutality. Rita said there’s a stereotype placed on Black creators that their content can only surround these topics.
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Black-created content ‘just like everyone else’
“We really want to be able to make content just like everybody else, it’s just created by Black families or Black people,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be trauma-oriented.”
“We’re realizing that we’re coming in with intentionality and understanding that laughter is medicine, and if we entertain, we can really make a difference just through laughter and entertainment,” Mirthell Mitchell said. “We have a heart for our community but we don’t want to be typecast.”
A study from Common Sense Media, a review website for kids and family entertainment, found missed opportunities for YouTube to push positive representations from the BIPOC community.
The study observed kids up to age 18 and the videos they watched on YouTube. Among children up to age 8, Common Sense found that 62% “didn’t feature any Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) characters and 10% showed shallow or stereotypical portrayals.”
In the teens and tweens category (9-18), “9% of videos contained stereotypes.”
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The power of stereotypes
Michael Robb is the head of research at Common Sense. He said the exposure to these stereotypes over time can shape sense and understanding of other racial and ethnic groups. He also said there’s no way to know if the YouTube algorithm has kids’ best interests at heart and that it’s not a good way to program for children.
The study also found significant demand for content that elevates empowering stories from BIPOC characters and creators, earning a median of 1.3 million views, while videos that included ethnic-racial stereotypes had a median of only 734,000.
“There are ways to find good creators and shows, especially for young kids, that populate their environment with better representations of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds,” Robb said. “YouTube can be a force for positive ethnic (and) racial representation if you’re finding those creators that are positive and don’t rely on stereotypes to get clicks.”
What YouTube is doing about it
YouTube has launched programming initiatives designed specifically to promote diversity and inclusion.
“While we agree there’s more we can do, we are incredibly proud of the progress we made thus far,” a statement from the company said. “We are committed to inspiring transformational conversations on racial justice and portraying diverse experiences on our platform.”
The statement also said YouTube worked with child development specialists to create quality principles for its Made for Kids content that “guide the content that is included and recommended on YouTube Kids.”
Pocket.watch is a digital-first company that seeks kid and family-based creators with a strong following and turn their channels into a franchise, with their primary platform being YouTube. It has signed on with multiple popular YouTube channels, including GEM sisters, Toys and Colors and, most recently, Ryan’s World.
Pocket.watch started working with The Onyx Family in 2019 and has helped it grow into a global franchise of books, podcasts, TV shows and music ever since.
Kerry Tucker, the chief marketing officer at pocket.watch, said those at the company who work with YouTube focus on “transcending audiences to new platforms and new revenue streams” by launching in places YouTubers can’t typically get to like streaming services and consumer production.
“We focus on YouTube because that’s where the audience is,” Tucker said. “I think it’s less about whether or not YouTube’s fairly representative because of how big it is, but companies like pocket.watch have the opportunity to intentionally seek out these diverse creators and make them bigger than they’ve already become.”
Pocket.watch worked with the Onyx Family to create a YouTube Originals series called “Onyx Family Dinners,” a talk-style cooking show with celebrity guest stars where the family would talk about race, mental health and body positivity in a healthy way.
Rita and Mirthell said they want to expand on series like Onyx Family Dinners and dive into topics that people don’t associate with the Black community, such as veganism, sustainability and the health care system, while also staying true to their original mission. ”
“We want to make sure that we’re giving children an escape from all the heaviness of life,” Rita said. “We just want to make them smile and bring joy to their hearts.