It’s been over a month since famous Youtube personality and known racist Jeffree Star released his “apology” video. His reputation remains draped in gold and diamonds, his fanbase massive and unbothered. He announces collaborations with other brands and new collections for his own brand left and right. This is not the first time that humanity has shown its true colors when it comes to supporting racists. Perhaps it’s the first time they excuse a racist just because he sells extra long-lasting liquid lipstick, but it just goes to show that people get extra creative with their rationalizations. Alas, while Jeffree Star may never go away, neither will his unsavory past. Proof of this man’s rottenness is so easy to access that you can practically sneeze and new evidence of his racism, misogyny, and dickbaggery will appear. Let’s dig in, and let’s memorialize it. This is a long post, so buckle up.
The Problem with Jeffree Star: A Condensed Dissertation
This essay concerns the public behaviors and words of well-known beauty guru and media personality, Jeffree Star. In this essay, I will argue that Jeffree Star’s words and actions over the last two decades indicate the presence of a racist attitude. Because these racist attitudes and words have remained consistent and persistent over the years, I argue that Jeffree Star can be considered a racist person. In this manner, my argument can be schematized as follows:
Racist attitudes → Racist words → Racist identity
To be clear, I define racism as a deliberate, pervasive framework of choices, actions, words, and opinions that promote the idea that people who don’t have white skin are inferior to people who do have white skin.
I do not equate racism with ignorance, which I define as an unconscious lack of knowledge or exposure to a particular topic that can be remediated with education.
I do not equate racism with prejudice, which I define as discriminatory bias against specific traits or individuals and can be directed towards White people.
In this essay, the stipulation that racism can only occur from a White person to a non-White person is not up for debate.
Part 1: The Video
The above link will display a video compilation of various moments in which Jeffree Star was recorded saying virulently racist and offensive things. The clips in this compilation can be dated back to the early 2000s. Below is a list of quotes:
“I win by having diamond rims and you win by being a poor Mexican.”
“Shut up you fucking n*igger bitch”
“You stupid ape, Imma spray you”
“Will you beat that n*gger up for me?”
“She’s a fucking n*gger.”
“You’re a n*gger, you fucking ugly ass bitch. Fuck you, hoe”
“She’s a fat, ugly bitch. You stupid c*nt”
Many have argued that Jeffree said these things because of the shock value, and that his intentions were not to insult, but to appear outrageous and transgressive. While it may be true, that argument remains speculative. I will rely on the meaning of the words he uttered in the clip to deduct what his intentions may have been, which in my view, was to establish dominance over the person he was insulting. If we look at the slurs he chose to use, we can group them according to different associations.
N*gger/ape: terms used by White slaveholders to refer disdainfully to their slaves. Used nowadays to knowingly insult and demean Black people, all of which have experienced oppression at the hands of a white people/societies.
Bitch/hoe/c*nt: all terms used to insult women, who have experienced oppression at the hands of men.
Poor: word used to describe someone who doesn’t have money. Poor people have experienced oppression at the hands of rich people.
Mexican: Depending on context, referring to someone’s ethnicity dismissively is a way of insulting them. In this case, given the fraught history between Americans and Latinos, Star’s use of the term indicates that he associates being Mexican with being undesirable and unsophisticated. Not to mention poor.
Fat/ugly: descriptors of appearance that are meant to shame those who do not possess the ideal traits that society admires: slender bodies and beautiful appearances.
We can see that all of the slurs listed above retain their offensive nature because of how they create and rely upon a conceptual good/bad binary:
Good = white Bad = black
Good = men/male Bad = women, female
Good = rich Bad = poor
Good = American Bad = Mexican
Good = skinny Bad = fat
Good = beautiful Bad = ugly
At the time these clips were being recorded, one can assume Jeffree Star wanted to feel superior. To achieve this feeling of superiority, he decided his strategy was to belittle the other person through the use of words that invoke or refer to the historical and social oppression of specific marginalized groups. If, as his fans claim, that he only used them for shock value, then it follows that he also knew the gravity and the social stigma attached to those words, otherwise he would not have used them. In this case, Jeffree Star cannot plead ignorance.
Part 2: The Tweets
Jeffree is known for being an outspoken media personality. He has frequently engaged in antagonistic and hostile exchanges with other beauty gurus, his critics, and even with his own fans. Many of these exchanges happen on Twitter, Snapchat, and Youtube. The function of showing examples of these exchanges is to show that Jeffree Star resorts to the same offensive strategy he used ten+ years ago when the incriminating clips of him were filmed. I will show two examples of tweets directed towards Black beauty gurus MakeupShayla and Jackie Aina.
His drama with MakeupShayla started when Jeffree alleged that the vlogger made remarks about the beauty guru Mariale’s appearance:
MakeupShayla denies it and calls Jeffree a bully. At one point Jeffree reacts with a tweet about how he is actually willing to use physical violence against others:
Jeffree continues his rant, eventually calling her a “broke fucking rat” and saying she “looks and sounds like a man.” See below for evidence.
Jeffree began this Twitter outburst ostensibly to defend Mariale from Shayla’s words. If Star’s intention was truly to defend another woman from mean comments about her appearance, then it is ironic that Star would use an insult to Shayla’s appearance (by saying she looks like a man) in his defense of Mariale.
Besides using language that negates female identity and self-esteem, we see language that glorifies violence against women as well as coded and racialized language that disparages Black women. By calling MakeupShayla (who is Black) a “broke fucking rat,” Star once again attempts to assert superiority over her by using terms that originated from the stigma that society attaches to poverty and the contempt that society has for non-White people. The term “rat” is related to the term “hoodrat,” generally used to refer to poor people who live in inner cities or urban ghettos, who are frequently Black. While Jeffree has insulted many people of all races, he saves the slur “rat” specifically for Black women, as we shall see in his online tussle with youtuber Jackie Aina, which happened earlier this year.
In a Spring 2017 anti-haul video in which Aina lists beauty products she did not want to buy, she mentions Jeffree Star Cosmetics. She states that due to Star’s racist past (i.e. the clips that I presented in Part 1), she did not feel comfortable buying from Star’s brand of makeup. Shortly thereafter, Aina reveals that Star blocked her on Instagram. After a string of tweets decrying Aina for using his name just to attract viewers to her channel, Star says the following in a now-deleted tweet:
Here one can see that Star has once again used the term “rat” to refer to yet another Black beauty vlogger, banking on the racially charged meanings of the word and insisting on asserting his superiority through hate speech.
Jeffree Star’s defensive tactics have not changed since the first time he was recorded saying racist things. He insists on using disparaging and hateful language in his attempt to win arguments. This insistence is deliberate and conscious. The disparaging and hateful language that he uses did not come out of thin air and do not exist in a vacuum. Star knows that a rat or a hoodrat is a term used to describe women who, because of their Blackness, poverty, or open sexuality, are deemed to be unworthy of respect. He did not divorce the term from its offensive backstory when he used it against MakeupShayla and Jackie Aina; indeed one cannot divorce such slurs from their histories unless the people they target choose to reclaim them. Ignorance cannot be Star’s excuse.
Furthermore, his squabbles with these two vloggers in particular become even more significant when we remember the fact that he is a White man going after two Black women. He shows no constraint, no remorse, and no acknowledgment of the harm of his words. None of his words or actions indicate any evidence of respect for Black women to begin with. This lack of respect devolves into hate and hostility as soon as Black women react. Plainly speaking, Jeffree Star is racist.
Part 3: The Apology
Except for moments here and there when the video shown above would resurface, Star and his fans mostly ignored any evidence of racism. Then on June 17, Jeffree made video collaborations with another famous Youtuber, Tati Westbrook. Tati’s fans reacted angrily to what they perceived as tacit approval of Star’s racism, especially in light of his hateful interaction with Jackie Aina. Viewers swarmed the video with messages of disappointment and betrayal, causing Tati to respond in defense of Jeffree:
“I’m reading these comments, and they’re a little crazy. I genuinely wish that people would have the chance that I have had […] to get to know people, and the whole behind the scenes story. Because what you see on Twitter or Snap doesn’t always give you the full story.”
Tati’s misguided and self-pitying approach to the whole drama lost her a lot of fans and deserves an essay of its own. The point here, however, is that the backlash happened on such a prominent Youtuber’s platform, that now there was no way Star could escape the accusations of being a racist.
On June 20, three days after Tati’s crisis, he uploaded the following video:
In this 16-minute long video, Jeffree apologizes. Here are a few choice quotes:
“You know what’s fucked up? The past can never be erased. It’s always going to be there, and my past has been recorded, it’s been video’d and exploited all over the internet. Those videos were 12 years ago, and I look at them, and it just makes me sick to my stomach because I don’t know who that person was.”
“The person who said those horrible, vile things — that person was depressed, that person was angry at the world, that person felt like they were not accepted, that person was seeking attention. I loved fighting anger with anger, and I didn’t know any better. Does that make it OK? Absolutely not.”
“The intent behind my words back then was not about race. Racism does not live inside of me… I don’t how that exists into people. I said really horrible, vicious things back to people to hurt them, to harm them, to shock them, and to let them know, ‘You’re gonna call me something? I’m gonna cut you back so hard and make you feel like a piece of shit because you made me feel low.’ And that is not OK. It is not OK to fight words with words like that.”
“I am so sorry for my words, I am so sorry for everything I’ve said in my past. I can never turn back time and take those moments back. They happened, I have owned up with them, and I have lived with them for a long time. And every time that they get re-dragged up, it just makes me sad because I don’t know who that person was.”
“I was angry, I never felt accepted, and I was always alone. If you have those feelings, that’s OK. You will overcome them, but it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of self analyzation, and you have to want to change, and you have to want to grow.”
“I know what I need to work on… I’m not going to fuel the fire of hate with hate, I just think it has to stop.”
Why Jeffree Star did not think to make a public and sincere apology the moment any evidence of his racism came out is anyone’s guess. The timing of this apology is suspicious, and frankly, long overdue. It appears as though apologies only become necessary when careers or public images become at risk. But moving beyond that, I’d like to analyze the language he uses to justify the racist things he has said, because at this point he has openly acknowledged that they were indeed racist.
The sentence highlighted in yellow indicates that there exists a dissonance between Star’s words and his identity. Without specifying which video, or what “past” people are referring to, he claims that he doesn’t “know who that person was.” One can only assume the speaks of the video I linked to in the beginning, in which he calls a woman “n*gger” multiple times. Just as a reminder, here is the schematization of my argument from the introduction. Star is arguing that his racist words do not reflect racist attitudes. I argue that they do.
Racist attitudes → Racist words → Racist identity
Star’s argument that his use of the word “n*gger” did not reflect on who he is/was as a person does not hold any water. As his insults have demonstrated over the years, racial equality and justice do not constitute one of the principles that he holds dear. On the contrary–Jeffree Star values money, wealth, status, and power. The words we use to disparage or disagree with others are a direct reflection of who we are and what we prize in life. That Star chose to insult a woman by calling her a “n*gger” reveals that he prizes the opposite of being a n*gger: being a White person, a person of power in America. Perhaps, for example, if he had chosen to insult Jackie Aina or MakeupShayla by saying they were “dumb” or “vain,” he would have implied he prized intelligence or humility. But instead, of all the insults, he called them “broke rats.” I refuse to believe Star is ignorant in his choice of words. He knowingly and deliberately chose which slurs to use, and these slurs were not accidental. They reflect who he is and was, whether he chooses to see it or not: a racist.
We see a similar kind of deflection tactic in the sentences highlighted in green. Star continues to speak of his past self in the third person. However, even though he previously claimed not to “know” who this person was, he proceeds to make justifications for their behavior as if he knew them. He invokes the pity of others by claiming he was depressed, angry, attention-seeking, and desirous of acceptance. These claims essentially attempt to absolve Star of his racist words by pinning the blame of his actions on forces that may have messed with his judgment. Star never admits he uttered those slurs because he held racist beliefs. Instead, he dodges accountability by saying he was depressed and angry. In other words, he claims to have suffered from mental health issues, and that these either drove him to react in a racist manner or prevented him from thinking about the effects of his words.
In the sentences highlighted in orange, Star outright denies that his racist words were motivated by a hatred of any particular race. He claims racism does not live inside him, which I interpret to mean that although he said racist things, he is not a racist person. Once again, Star tries to create a divide between someone’s words and someone’s identity. Yet if we believe the premise that a person’s words reflect their character and their identity, then this divide does not exist. If Jeffree Star were indeed not a racist person, then his words should be congruent with that description of himself.
He then explains that the reason he said racist things was to hurt people, to shock people, to make them feel like “a piece of shit.” He says he wanted to hurt others because he felt “low” himself. This last statement confirms my theory that Star sought to establish himself as the dominant party whenever he hurled insults at other people.
Now, it is important to acknowledge that while Star may indeed believe that his intentions were simply to shock, and not to outright offend a woman because of her Black skin, one must point out that he does not get to define the impact of his insults. He does not get to control how the offended person will react. If one has to explain the intention behind his or her racial slurs, then it follows that those slurs should not have been said in the first place. The fact that Star even attempted to explain away his racism with claims that he wasn’t trying to be racist indicates he is on the defensive. He is not open to critique. He is not open to learning from his mistakes or to learning how to undo the racial biases he may have fostered within himself. Furthermore, saying that he wasn’t trying to be racist functions not only as a denial and rejection of the feelings of Black women, but also as an attempt to once again place himself as the dominant party in the conversation. His view of events is the legitimate view; his intentions take precedence over the feelings of the people he hurt.
He finalizes that paragraph highlighted in orange by declaring that it is not ok to “fight words with words,” an assertion that appears exceedingly disingenuous when we look at the online bullying, misogyny, and general cattiness that Jeffree Star continuously engages with and promotes through his social media channels.
The sentences in purple highlight Star’s positioning of himself as a victim. He says he has lived with the accusations of being a racist for a long time, and that every time they get “re-dragged up,” he feels sad. Here, Star derails the conversation from racism to his own feelings. He wants pity from the viewer so that they become more amenable to who he is and what he’s done. He wants people to stop bringing up the accusations of racism, not because he understands the harm he’s done and how contrary to human dignity his behavior has been, but because the accusations make him feel “sad.” This invocation of pity is a PR strategy, a form of damage control. Star’s brand and bottom line rely on his Internet popularity, and allying his image with racism is risky. He needs the accusations to stop and to die. He needs people to forgive and forget.
The sentences highlighted in blue continue to represent Star’s victim complex. More than once he feels the needs to say that he felt angry, alone, and not accepted. However, the problem here is not that Star felt those things. The problem is that he shouted racial slurs to a woman’s face. The problem is that he used despicable language towards two Black women. He then mentions that it will take time to overcome those “feelings,” as though feeling angry, alone, and unaccepted were the source of all his problems and mistakes as a person. Finally, he says, “you have to want to grow,” as though the journey from being a racist to not being a racist was simply a process of personal growth that everyone around you needs to excuse.
So first he absolves himself from blame by saying his racist insults weren’t about race and that he didn’t know who he was at the time. Then he frames this racism brouhaha as something that happened to him, rather than something he instigated. But Star’s insults never lose their racial tone over the years. Furthermore, he never takes his own advice to stop “fueling the fire of hate with hate” (as quoted in the section highlighted in brown) to heart. This apology means nothing except for the fact that he is mad he even had to apologize at all. He says it himself: “You know what’s fucked up? The past can never be erased.” It’s not racist America that’s fucked up. It’s not Star’s own actions that are fucked up. What’s fucked up is that the past can never be erased nowadays, because if that were possible, he’d delete all evidence of racism and gaslight his victims into insanity.
Because of his large fanbase, he knows that any semblance of emotional vulnerability that he shows publicly will be embraced. Many of his White fans even said they “accept” his apology even though they have never been the target of his ire or borne the brunt of his insults. Many fans who are people of color accepted his apology, as is their right. The purpose of this particular chapter, however, is to demonstrate how misleading and hollow his apology is. Jeffree Star remains racist. He’s just going to be one privately instead of publicly now.
Jeffree Star is racist. He has an army of impressionable teens who could be participating in a very important conversation about racism and how perverse and damaging it is, but instead their idol decided to position himself as the victim and deny all evidence that points to the true state of his character. He is unworthy of the attention he gets and the praise he receives. He is the embodiment of White power and privilege, regardless of how much abuse he has faced because of his sexual orientation or his flamboyant lifestyle. He is a symbol of consumerism, materialism, greed, and empty vanity. He is a walking representation of male arrogance and misogyny that gay men all too often exhibit towards women. He endorses violence, rationalizes prejudice, and epitomizes hypocrisy. He has been given too many second chances. If I have one hope, it is that people will stop purchasing his products and watching his videos. At the very least people should remember the way he denigrated Black women, instead of his perfunctory apology and shallow attempts to redeem himself.
A photo showing Jeffree and a friend dressed as the spice girls. His friend is in Blackface.
References and Further Reading
Revelist article about feud with Jackie Aina:
Black Girl, Long Hair article about feud with MakeupShayla:
Reddit thread containing explicit video of Jeffree using slurs:
2010 Q&A Interview With Jeffree Star:
- “It’s usually like really young girls that recognize me the most.”
- “I don’t hang out with gay people really. Most gay guys are like women, they’re fucking annoying. There is so much drama and cattiness. I stick with the “bros.” “
- “I don’t look like a fucking dirty lesbian.” (In reference to people saying he looks like the singer P!nk)
- “I’m all about business, usually, but of course I like to go out and have fun. The other night I punched a girl and threw drinks everywhere.”
- “This kid kept squirting me with water in my face while I was doing a signing. There was like a thousand people there so I chased him down, tased him to the floor and beat his ass.”
2016 Interview with Racked.com https://www.racked.com/2016/5/13/11669706/jeffree-star-kylie-jenner
- “My [highlighter] formula speaks for itself and at the end of the day most people that have [makeup] brands are females, so being a male that wears full makeup I kind of have the upper hand. [laughs] It’s different. It’s easier to stick out than the average brand.”
Co-Editor of The Black Revolution Blog