Alumna pushes YouTube literary community to take a leaf out of diversity’s book
Christina Mitchell uses her YouTube channel “Christina Marie” to discuss issues of diversity, such as lack of representation, in the book community. Mitchell, frustrated by the silence on issues such as police brutality, uses her channel to speak out. (Courtesy of Christina Marie Mitchell)
By Kaia Sherry
June 30, 2019 10:53 p.m.
Christina Mitchell fell in love slowly, then all at once with “The Fault in Our Stars.”
After reading John Green’s novel, the alumna said she scoured the corners of YouTube to see how others had responded to the book.
In addition to the John Green enthusiasts she originally sought, Mitchell found an entire online book community – labeled BookTube – dedicated to discussing literature and issues percolating the publishing scene.
Her BookTube channel, “Christina Marie,” focuses on literature-based content and commentary regarding diversity within her online community. Characterized by Mitchell’s focus on representing herself authentically as a black creator, the channel also has occasional forays into unboxing and storytime videos.
“I’m a firm believer of not having to ask permission to be who I am,” Mitchell said. “If I don’t say what I say or make sure my voice is heard, I’m not being my true self, but I’m also limiting the opportunities for someone who is just like me to hear themselves in media.”
Mitchell’s YouTube account originated as a beauty channel in 2012, but she said she wasn’t willing to expend the often exorbitant costs required for high-quality makeup tutorials, like high-end cameras.
Opting instead to post her latest eye shadow looks on Instagram, Mitchell changed her channel’s focus to books. She said she initially decided to review books she had recently read and enjoyed, such as “The Fault in Our Stars,” rather than focusing on a specific genre.
However, Mitchell’s content began to focus more on diversity and inclusion in the wake of the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile – an African American man who was shot by a police officer after being pulled over.
“I was upset that my community was staying quiet while all this was happening – I’m over here in my corner struggling and suffering and being afraid for my life and everybody else is just doing their own thing,” Mitchell said. “It felt like the community needed to do better with blending what people experience in their everyday lives with books.”
In response, Mitchell released a video on her channel titled “BOOKTUBE, SPEAK UP!” which criticized the BookTube community for remaining silent in the face of police brutality and systematic racism. In the video, she urged those in positions of privilege and power to use their platforms to speak out against such injustices.
“There is so much violence going on within this country because so many people in positions of power continue to stay silent,” Mitchell said in her video. “Stop the silence. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
As seen in her video, Mitchell uses her platform to foster discussion within the book community about its lack of diversity, and subsequent impact on minority groups, said Maureen Graham, another BookTube creator. She said Mitchell saw the lack of agency from BookTube on such issues and decided to speak out herself, asking for constructive solutions such as creators utilizing their followers for social change.
“(Mitchell) shows her willingness to call (BookTube) out, but in a way that is constructive and in a way they can learn from if they take those things to heart,” Graham said.
Before she began to create more outspoken videos, Mitchell said at first it was difficult to express herself authentically on YouTube, given the politically charged nature of certain content on her channel. She did not want to adhere to stereotypes typically associated with black women.
“When I was trying to figure out what I was doing on YouTube, I really was aware of being that loud, boisterous, opinionated black woman to where I was trying to not be,” Mitchell said. “I was trying to mimic a lot of what I saw, which was primarily white women.”
Later, she said she developed more confidence in her opinionated persona as a black creator as she grew more comfortable being on camera.
“I have thoughts on almost everything and I’m not afraid to share them. I’m also not scared to have those difficult conversations that people should be having,” Mitchell said. “It really just came with me being becoming more in tune with who I was and finding what I was actually passionate about online in a social media space.”
Mitchell further addressed these issues when attending BookCon in 2018 where many BookTube creators were present, said Hannah Azerang, a fellow YouTuber and friend. After noticing the lack of diversity among those attending, she said Mitchell produced several responses detailing her disappointment with the community, such as her video “Is BookCon Truly Diverse?” As a result, Mitchell was given a panel this year to ameliorate the issues she spoke upon.
“She talked about issues people don’t always talk about, like why black creators get less subscribers and less views overall than other creators, and then she created an actual change,” Azerang said.
With her YouTube channel, Mitchell said she hopes to shine a light on how the publishing industry works and its effects on marginalized communities. She said oftentimes minorities feel like they don’t have the authority to ask for reflections of themselves and their experiences in books – Mitchell urges these groups to demand for increased representation in the BookTube community and wider literary world.
“Those stories still need to be told not for the sake of people who are living those experiences, but to also introduce those people who are in the majority to lives and perspectives outside of their own,” Mitchell said.