It’s only the second day of 2018 and things are not looking great for YouTubers: First, Logan Paul posts a tone deaf video featuring a dead body, essentially mocking suicide and later sharing a half-assed apology while managing to make mental health awareness about...himself. Now we have the most racist thing I’ve seen in a hot minute, so effortlessly offensive I’m genuinely concerned there hasn’t been more Outrage Online—YouNow (it’s a live-broadcasting site, you olds) celeb Zach Clayton’s musical transformation into BadZach.
Here’s the deal: YouTube is a hotbed for lukewarm rap careers, and while they rarely result in mainstream superstardom, they do reach a ridiculous amount of people. Clayton is no stranger to this kind of fame—the 17-year-old has over 2.3 million followers on Instagram, 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube and 894,000 Twitter followers. Most of his loyal following love him for his goofy personality, his boys-will-be-boys live stream sessions of overacting, reacting and twerking.
Music, too, has always been a passion of his—his fandom grew after a brief stint in the boy band/social media superstar group 5Quad, a quintet that specialized in mostly harmless songs about crushes and cute girls. That escalated into some solo recordings, equally as PG, as evidenced in “Nothin’ But Love.” Consider it cut from the same cloth as One Direction’s earliest recordings.
During all of this time, Clayton was posting under the handle BruhItsZach. Well, as of last week, BruhItsZach is dead—just consult the video for his debut as BadZach, “Off White.” It opens with Clayton looking down at himself in a coffin, tween haircut still intact. You could say Bruh can’t come to the phone right now, because he’s dead, etc. Real Clayton stans will notice his 5Quad donut bucket hat in the casket with him:
That idea, again, is harmless—it’s challenging to rebrand yourself as a young adult; adolescence is tricky enough. What is extremely not okay is the actual content of the song, which includes the following lyrics, serving to limit race to...some nonexistent superficiality? As if racial presentation is some sort of fashion statement, a trend?
“All of my chicks, off-white / Man, look at my skin, off-white”
In case it’s not clear enough, it continues:
“Off-white, I still got that Melanin.”
Perhaps social media stardom allows male youths to feel invincible, above the social, cultural or political grace that allows the rest of us to exist harmoniously. Or maybe this particular kind of fame makes you blind to reality, elevates you to a position where you truly believe you can get away with anything. Whatever the case, the kind of rhetoric espoused in “Off White” is ultimately, undeniably damaging—maybe not to his most loyal of followers in ways they can see now, but they will.
“Off White” serves to further marginalize and fetishize the experiences of people of color. It ignores injustice. It minimizes race to two words that could be used to describe wall paint. I try to avoid criticizing young people working to come into their own, but adults made sure this was brought into the world and that’s fucking unsettling.