Franchesca Ramsey, known on YouTube as Chescaleigh, shot to fame in January 2012 when her video ‘Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls’, a comic riff on ‘Shit Girls Say’ went viral.
With over 30 million views, Franchesca Ramsey was recognized in 2016 for her work in bringing more diversity to the fashion industry, and named one of YouTube's Creators for Change, a global initiative dedicated to amplifying young YouTubers using their channels to front social change to promote messages of tolerance and empathy.
Her videos comment on social issues, including race, gender and sexual health, through sketches and pieces to camera. And in 2015, Ramsey became the host of the MTV series Decoded where she discusses racism and cultural issues.
However, discussing these issues has come at a cost. Campaigns of harassment against Ramsey flood the web. And many have been orchestrated, coordinated and published on white supremacist websites, alt-right establishment-connected media. In fact, Ramsey was counted among five women who receive "mountains of daily abuse" of the kind that is "disproportionately leveled against women as well as LGBT people and people of color, prompted by nothing at all”.
VICE Impact spoke with Franchesca to talk about her latest animated video that tackles police violence and how she copes with so much online hate and harassment.
Your video for Creators for Change tackles police violence using animation. Why did you use this medium?
I just wanted to do something that was different. Talking about police violence is really difficult because it’s a really serious issue. It’s depressing, right? We are talking about miscarriages of justice, people losing their lives. I felt like using animation would be a great way to talk about it so that people would be able to think of it in a different way.
But also, as a woman of color on the internet, when people see my face talking about issues, they are not as receptive to them as when they can separate these issues to Franchesca, or me as a black person or me as a black woman.
This time, I wanted to step away from the issue and speak about it in a way that was accessible to lots of people. And I thought that animation was a really powerful way to do that.
Attempting to tackle police violence must feel overwhelming, but your video gives specific calls-to-action. By the end of the video, the issue seems less insurmountable.
I think people are resistant to talk about it because we are talking about life and death and a lot of the times people don’t want to talk about these things. But I figured it’s overwhelming for people, because it’s a problem that seems people can’t solve on their own. And while that is the case, there are things you can do to push the conversation forward. You can do things that can impact the conversation in a positive way.
This isn't the first time you use animation to tackle sensitive issues, right?
I’d done an animation video before called ‘Sometimes You’re Caterpillar’, which was about privilege, and the video got half a million views. And it was used in schools, high schools, colleges, and conferences around the world and the success of that video is really what inspired me to make another video that was animated. But animation is really expensive and really time consuming, and that’s what was amazing about Creators for Change, it’s that is gave me a grant to hire a team to make the animation.
You’ve been the target of online harassment, trolling and doxing. Where do you think all this hate stems from?
It stems from the fact that I am a black woman on the internet talking about race, gender and social issues, and there are a lot of people that are uncomfortable with that.
It’s a symptom of people in privileged positions not liking their privilege being challenged, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of having to be self-reflective and I’m sure you’ve seen, from some of the things people have said about me that many interpret my content in a complete untruthful way. They say a lot of things that are just untrue.
Creators for Change was a big part of the reason why I didn't want to personally be in the video. I thought, if I use my voice, even if some people know it’s me and have an opinion of me already, hopefully they’ll be able to divorce the content from me. Unfortunately, we see that in media a lot. We see it with Harvey Weinstein. There have been people talking about sexual assault and violence for a long time but it takes people with a certain level of visibility for people to receive that message. Or we see men speaking out in support for women’s issues and suddenly people are more receptive to it.
A lot of the time, when marginalized people speak out for themselves and speak about the issues that impact their lives, it’s really hard for people to understand it. People feel that they are being personally attacked even if they are not. A lot of that is seen in the videos that are critical of my work. It’s also really easy to make videos criticizing someone else, instead of making your own content.
How do you find the strength to continue speaking out about these important issues in the face of all this harassment and, can I even say abuse?
Yes, it’s abuse. I have been dealing with it for a long time. It sucks to say I’m used to it, but I tell myself that unfortunately this is the experience of anyone who is brave enough to talk about unpopular issues.
If I had just continued making beauty videos, and that’s no shame to people that make beauty videos, I would not be dealing with this level of visceral comments. But anytime you advocate for marginalized people, there will be people that are threatened by it. So I don’t feel special in that respect.
How can the above be tackled?
One of the biggest thing you can is take the risk to have conversation with people in your community or in your life about issues that matter to you that they might be confused or misinformed about. You can’t be passive about things you believe in. It’s not enough to say, ‘This is what I believe in and this is important’, educating people that don’t know much about the issue is so important.
But taking action is also making sure you enrolled to vote, putting your money towards organizations that are making a difference, volunteering, but the first step is making sure that you are informed so you can help inform other people.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
YouTube has partnered with VICE Impact to promote the Creators for Change program. This article was written independently by the VICE Impact editorial staff and was not paid for by YouTube.