Ignoring A Problem Doesn’t Make It Go Away: On Lindsay Ellis and Anti-Native Racism

Once upon a time I was a fan of Lindsay Ellis. I’m not anymore. I maintain that she has a lot of unchecked anti-indigenous racism whether she,her friends, and followers want to acknowledge that. Considering her colleague Contrapoints has made considerably worse anti-indigenous comments on social media that hasn’t been acknowledged or even apologized for, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. 

Since Contrapoints fans are bringing up my interaction with her so they can speak over indigenous people who are rightfully miffed with her, I’ll direct you to another tweet she made. Because you know, a bloody reenactment of Spain murdering and...

To say “you are the company you keep” is putting things lightly.

Still, she was a big part of my high school years as the Nostalgia Chick on Channel Awesome. Even then, there has always been something about Lindsay Ellis that rubbed me the wrong way as an indigenous person. 

The Channel Awesome Days

Her very first video and Nostalgia Chick audition was her review of Disney’s Pocahontas. While I didn’t disagree with the points she was making, there was something about the way she addressed the atrocities committed against indigenous people with very little compassion that didn’t sit right with me.

I didn’t have the words to describe it then, but I do now, and the underlying issue of her first Pocahontas video was these atrocities were not hers to joke about. 

She’s not indigenous. She did not have family who survived residential schools or the Sixties Scoop, she doesn’t have missing or murdered indigenous women in her family or social circle, she doesn’t have native aunties who were sterilized against their will, and Pocahontas’s story (both historically as well as the bastardized Disney version) does not affect her at all. This character was not made to represent her or the women in her family. Of course it’s easy for her to laugh at it. Her people aren’t the punchline.

While this is certainly problematic, it’s not surprising for the time in which the video was made. She was part of an edgy dudebro website where making smartass comments while tearing apart childrens’ films was part of the job description. Even then, her approach was considerably more respectful than the hot takes made by her white male counterparts any time they tackled films about racism. Also, unlike her male counterparts, she seemed to mature and improve over the years as her videos became more analytical and less snarky. For the longest time she was my favorite video essayist on Youtube. 

And then she made two videos that changed everything. Not only was it a reminder of her anti-indigenous origins, but now it was quite honestly the beginning of the end of any respect I’d have for her.

The first was “Pocahontas was a Mistake… and Here’s Why.” The second was “Dear Stephenie Meyer, I’m Sorry.” 

Tackling Pocahontas A Second Time

When I realized she was doing another video about Pocahontas, my stomach dropped. Time and again I’ve been disappointed by celebrities and Internet personalities who suddenly reveal how unapologetically racist they are when it comes to indigenous people. This wasn’t the first time she tackled Disney’s Pocahontas and I had every reason in the world to be skeptical. But I was hopeful: Her video essays on Youtube were completely different from her Nostalgia Chick reviews, so perhaps it would be different this time.

I watched the video and held my breath, waiting for something cruel; a tasteless joke, a tone deaf comment, something dismissive and uncaring. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but something else rubbed me the wrong way, because many of the points made in the video were points I’ve read before: in my own article on Indian Country Today: “Go Warrior Women! 8 Positively Portrayed Indigenous Women Characters in Film and Animation,”

Ali Nahdee, June 2017

Lindsay Ellis, July 2017

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was plagiarism in the same way that copying your friend’s homework and writing it in your own words isn’t word-for-word plagiarism. But every point made about Pocahontas’s portrayal compared to that of Moana and Nani Pelekai were definitely similar enough for me to take notice. It’s hard to say if this was her intention or not. Part of me hopes it isn’t: she has a list of articles that she referenced for her video from various indigenous journalists, so it’s easy to argue that this wasn’t plagiarism but credited research. 

But when an article written by an indigenous woman, on one of the largest Native-run news organizations in the country, whose article was shared and celebrated almost by every big name in Indian Country, was published before a Youtube video about indigenous women made by a white woman who addresses all of the same points, it does make one suspicious. 

I didn’t say anything because again, I wasn’t sure if this was her intention or not. I reasoned with myself that the important thing was the message. If she could reach more people with her platform on this topic than I could, maybe it’s for the better as long as the message got out. Maybe it’s best not to make waves. But if it seems unfair or twisted that a non-native white woman received more views and money for the exact same conversation that’s been had by native women, it is. It’s not like she had a native guest on her video to discuss this with. She just regurgitated everything we’ve already said countless times.

But against my better judgment, I supported the video. I shared it on Twitter, I made my own thread talking about everything that I liked about the video, even pointed out the similarities made in my own article, and Lindsay Ellis responded by liking every single comment I made almost as quickly as I had made them. 

And then the “Dear Stephenie Meyer, I’m Sorry” video came out.

Dear Stephenie Meyer, You’re Racist.”

In this video essay, Lindsay Ellis blames the contempt Twilight faced on misogyny against (white) teenage girls, but not racism. According to her, it “wasn’t the reason why everyone was hassling her in 2008,” as if Native people weren’t vocal about the misrepresentation during that time. She doesn’t address the racist depiction of the Quileute people at all in this video. She doesn’t address how the misogyny against Native women in Twilight is directly connected to the racialized misogyny native women face to this day.

This was not something I could be quiet about. 

As someone who was complimentary of her work, I commented on a Twitter post that praised the video on The Mary Sue’s account. I was met with silence for months despite the fact that Lindsay Ellis was tagged in the thread. I suppose it’s easier to respond quickly when the Native woman is singing you praises as opposed to challenging your approach. And I made sure that my tweets were exactly that: challenging, not attacking. Because this is a conversation that needed to be had and ignoring a problem never makes the problem go away.

The first person to respond and the only one to apologize was Princess Weekes, the writer of the article. She reached out privately and was very kind, sincere, and apologetic for not mentioning Twilight’s racism in her article. She has even retweeted articles and videos that discuss the anti-native racism in Twilight, because it is possible to have a discussion about misogyny and racism when both exist simultaneously and prominently in the same franchise. 

When Lindsay Ellis finally responded, it was as dismissive as you would expect.

She claimed she was “uncomfortable discussing the racism in Twilight” because “other natives liked it,” but had no qualms in starting off her career tearing Pocahontas to shreds and making another monetized Youtube video about it years later. In previous videos she is able to acknowledge problematic elements but not commenting on them further so as to not overstep any boundaries (addressing the way autism is portrayed in My Name Is Khan and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but couldn’t do it for a Twilight video. 

Even a simple, “there’s a discussion to be had about the very problematic portrayal of the Quileute tribe, but I’m going to leave that to someone more qualified than I,” could have sufficed, because at least the problem was acknowledged. She claims she didn’t want her video to be longer than 20 minutes at the time. That sentence would’ve taken less than 10 seconds to fit into her video, even as an annotation, even as a comment in the video’s summary. But apparently white teenaged girls having their favorite globally successful franchise mocked and ridiculed took priority over continued anti-indigenous racism.

Arguing with her seemed pointless. She wasn’t willing to engage or learn and acted more defensive than anything (something that she would do again when the controversy over Raya and the Last Dragon would happen several years later). Other natives and people of color commented on the thread and were also met with silence. There was no way to continue the discussion civilly, so we didn’t continue it.

Mask Off, White Women Tears On

ZOHORE | White Woman Tears | The Cornell Daily Sun

Lindsay Ellis did not address this again until her Mask Off video, in which she literally scoffs (42:55) at the idea that someone would possibly think she was racist for not addressing the racism in the Twilight franchise. Instead of taking the opportunity to address it then and there as she did with her two-hours long list of grievances against her, she doubles down again, arguing that some natives liked Twilight because Jacob wasn’t stereotypical (what?).

She finishes her brief segment on her Twilight Apologia grievance by doing a classic “see I’m a liberal ally to the brown folks” move straight out of a JK Rowling’s tweet: adding the link to the Quileute tribe’s fundraiser to prove that she’s not racist, she cares about ACTUAL problems that the Quileute folks face. Not something as trivial as representation in Twilight but REAL problems. Clearly she cares more about indigenous issues than the indigenous people she’s arguing with. 

In any case, you don’t need to be native to know there isn’t much sincerity to someone who dedicates two hours to taking shots of whiskey for every “apology” they have to make. Quite frankly it would’ve saved her time to just upload a five second Youtube video of her telling us to eat shit. The same message would’ve been delivered expeditiously. 

Why Do I Bother?

If you follow me on social media, you know that I have addressed this topic countless times. I’ve dedicated several Twitter threads to the conversation, discussed it on Tumblr, made a series of TikTok videos about it (which at the time seemed excessive, but considering she dedicated two hours of her white woman tears on Youtube…), and honestly, the only people who really give a damn about this are other natives. Lindsay Ellis’s fans swear up and down that she’s not racist, that the racism “wasn’t the point of her video!” and that I’m acting in “bad faith,” like I hadn’t given this person every excuse and alibi in the world because I liked her content, despite the real hurt the content caused. 

I’m done making excuses for white women who only care what natives have to say if it’s said in a way that flatters them.. 

I’m tired of non-natives insisting that I’m overreacting when a woman who began her career being racist against indigenous people still holds racist opinions about indigenous people in 2021.

I’m tired of these so called progressive Breadtube stans insisting that we’re the reason why the Right wins (like the Right isn’t actively trying to kill indigenous people right along with you) when we hold them accountable for their racism. 

Is Lindsay Ellis or Contrapoints the absolute worst, evil racists in existence? I don’t know. They’re strangers. They could be. White women aren’t exactly exempt from committing hate crimes and hiding behind their tears to get away with it. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t need to be the ultimate evil to be racist.

There are different degrees of racism, from casual and absentminded to hate crimes and genocide. But like any other big name Internet personality or celebrity, anti-indigenous racism gets swept under the rugs because in the end, nobody really gives a damn about that racism except for the natives themselves. And the racist white folks have absolutely nothing to lose if they continue being racist against them. They can continue to speak over indigenous people, dismiss their views, ignore their perspective, argue with them online, refuse to apologize, refuse to mend fences, refuse to enlighten themselves to become better allies, and their careers won’t be altered by it in the slightest. They won’t lose fans, they won’t lose money, they won’t have to bend over backwards to do any kind of damage control.

It’s not in their interest to be “good allies” to indigenous people and it’s not in the interest of their followers and subscribers to give a damn either. At the end of the day, they can just upload a two hour video of them taking shots and giving non-apologies and Natives can just be reminded yet again that at worst, we’re just an inconvenience for them. 

In the end, all I can really do is stick to my guns. Nothing about the way she handled the situation was particularly good and Lindsay Ellis has made it clear she doesn’t care about nor think about indigenous racism unless it’s something she can profit off of. I know this essay isn’t going to change anyone’s minds but ignoring a problem doesn’t make a problem go away. Not addressing your own internalized anti-indigenous racism even when indigenous people call you out on it is a problem

Maybe she thinks the longer she ignores it the quicker it’ll be forgotten. Maybe that’s the case for her non-native friends and fans.

I can promise you, I certainly won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

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