“Hello beautiful people!”
This is the standard greeting of Patricia Bright, British lifestyle and beauty YouTube vlogger with over two million subscribers. Not being one with a strong foothold on YouTube trends and influencers, I surprisingly find myself a steady fan of Patricia’s for three years and counting. For me, watching Patricia, a woman with Nigerian heritage living and operating in a Western country, was familiar territory. Yet, amidst watching videos on what make-up/clothing brands to buy or not, interwoven with her witty commentary, I found myself on the brink of a perplexing discovery.
It happened one day while watching one of her many “Rate my Online Shopping Haul” videos. My eyes drifted to the sidebar where I see the thumbnail for one of the few Patricia videos I had not seen. I click on it, and see that it is a video from Patricia’s other channel. A channel specifically for sporadic vlogs chronicling the day to day of Patricia, her husband Michael, and her daughter, Grace. I was not aware of the vlog channel, but I knew about Patricia’s husband and daughter from their frequent appearance in her lifestyle and beauty vlogs. I watch the video where I see Patricia and Michael, who is white, talk about how they met and their stark similarities despite the difference in their racial background. That video spiraled into their wedding video, and then the vlog of Grace’s birth. I thought little of them and promptly put it in the rearview mirror of my day, as I got off YouTube.
The next time I returned to the platform and it seemed that my viewing history had fueled a data overload as under the recommended videos tab were several videos of YouTube couples that looked just like Patricia and Michael. They were twenty and thirty-somethings who had channels with subscribers well in the millions, dedicated to vlogging their daily lives. They were from the U.K., the U.S., Australia, and so on, and they all had one thing in common; the man was white and the woman was black.
After a peek into the comment sections and noticing a pattern of comments like #goals and “interracial is the only way” I thought that I had slipped into an alternate reality. That is until I viewed further videos and saw that these that some fans were indeed part of a community that called themselves “Swirlrs”: people devoted to and infatuated with white men and black women relationships. And these Swirlrs are not just faceless avatars commenting on a YouTube video, they are everywhere.
My own cousin lit up when she saw a picture I had liked on Instagram of Patricia and Grace on vacation. “That’s all I want” she said while her eyes zeroed in on Grace. I even see the swirlr mentality in my non-black friends whenever I mention a potential crush. “Is he white?” is always one of the first questions they ask even though I have never dated or expressed interest in dating a white man.
I have very little interest in who a bunch of strangers are in relationships with, but I see a frenzy around me that has set me thinking, is this just creepy fetishization, an expression of preferences people always had, or an understanding that issues that seem taboo are actually significantly marketable?
Take the McClure Twins, a YouTube channel that follows the the daily life of quirky 5 year old biracial McClure twins, Ava and Alexis. Since their 2015 vlog debut, they have been featured on The Today Show and Good Morning America. Along with over one million YouTube subscribers and Instagram followers, they have branded merchandise that includes t-shirts and calendars. Parents using their children’s looks and personality for commodity is not new, but what does turn heads is the recent reveal of Justin McClure, the girls’ father’s, old racist tweets about black women.
All of this is to say that I can not help but think about the fact that there is a culture committed to celebrating and elevating a black woman’s worth based on her proximity to a white man. Nevertheless, I can not suppress this newfound knowledge based on what it means for me and my dating future.
Gabrielle Aku is an aspiring television writer and Senior in Tisch School of the arts at NYU. In her free time she writes fiction, poetry, and personal essays.