Evelyn from the Internets on Youtube, Cultural Identity & Homeland8 minute read

Evelyn from the Internets, aka “the Internet Cousin You Didn’t Know You Needed” is an online video creator who has created her own platform to consistently deliver her hilarious, insightful and unapologetic perspective. Evelyn is a first generation American born to Kenyan parents with a successful YouTube channel, a prolific twitter page, and even Beyoncé knows her name. But beyond that, she is an inspiration to dark chocolate girls like me who often find themselves parched for positive and relatable representation.

When we at Of Africa discussed who we wanted to feature in Homeland, Evelyn was on the top of our list and thankfully she said yes. As someone who has played and replayed her YouTube videos over and over, when we made our skype appointment, I could not help but feel I was about to meet my best friend. Even though she was about 8,000 km away in Austin, Texas and I was in The Hague I was still dizzy with excitement. I pressed call and waited to virtually meet Evelyn.

Starting with her YouTube journey she told me, “At first, I would just make funny videos for my friends and at the time I was just putting them on YouTube so I could send them a link. I wasn’t really trying to make videos for strangers.” Over time she started making friends on YouTube, similar to the way people used to make friends on MySpace. Soon she had friends she only knew through YouTube scattered across the US and other parts of the world that she would talk to through YouTube videos and they would, in turn, make a response video.

“I have never felt I have to look a certain way or talk a certain way to have success.”

Evelyn continued, “So then I started to get more subscribers because I started to make these videos for the public on purpose. I used YouTube in the beginning, kind of like an online diary, just a way to communicate with people and tell stories”.

I asked Evelyn what is the most surprising aspect about having a social media presence, “I don’t know if it’s surprising as much. I’m more grateful I guess. I never feel like I have to be a completely different person in my videos. I have never felt I have to look a certain way or talk a certain way to have success. I don’t even know if I’m successful but I feel as long as people are watching and people have a connection with me then yeah that’s pretty successful. I have always been myself and people have appreciated that.”

 

Forgoing my plan to play it cool, I confessed that her candor and sense of humour made me feel like we were best friends, and like the internet cousin she is, we laughed at my delusions. We paused to discuss her video, KENYAN? AMERICAN? OR NAH? in which she ranks her order of cultural identities and mentions intersectionality. A word that makes me sway from side to side as if I am in church. Tackling intersectionality from another angle I asked her whether she finds herself ranking her own intersecting identities as some people do. Pensively, she responded, “I don’t… me inside, I don’t put any identity first. I don’t put black first, I don’t put woman first. It’s very much the same. But I know to the outside world I’m black first. And so it’s like you can’t even agree with a white woman on something because she’s white but it’s like no, she’s talking about something that matters to me too… you know I’m a woman too, right? And while I might be black on top of that, I feel the outside world sees me first as black and I have to prove that I’m also woman, which is a weird thing. But to me, I can’t separate the two.”

Based on my multiple viewings of her videos I was pretty certain she had never lived in Kenya but I still wanted to know how she relates with Kenya. Confirming my suspicions she told me she had only been there to visit, the last time she was there was over a decade ago when she was fourteen.

“My relationship with the motherland is weird. If you are African, there is this assumption from black Americans that you know where you come from and it’s like yeah I literally know where I come from but I don’t know my grandparents and they have since passed away so I’ll never get to know who they were really.” She explained that she is Facebook friends with her aunts, uncles, and cousins but every time they meet, they meet as strangers, “So the first time I met my family I was 4, the next time I was 9, then 14 and then I’ll meet them again at 27. So it’s like you are meeting them all over again. Some have gotten married, had kids and it’s just like… I know where I come from, I can point on a map to a village, but do I know them? Not really… and so my relationship to Kenya has always been kind of… difficult. Because I feel like I’m a part of it but, am I? It’s all really because I don’t have physical experience there so, I always say I have to live there sometime before I am 30 because after 30 I’ll be set in my ways and I won’t go.”

“So it’s like we always have to defend ourselves but sometimes I feel that we have to defend ourselves to the detriment of some actual reality.”

In her videos, Evelyn has mentioned different misconceptions people have about African-Americans that irritate her. I asked her if there were any misconceptions about things OF AFRICA or about people OF AFRICA that also get to her, nodding she offered slowly, “So I feel like when you are African you constantly have to be like we don’t all live in slums and poverty, look at this mansion. However, you have to acknowledge [that], yes lots of people live in poverty but you also have to talk about the reasons people live in poverty and that might be a little more painful than just being like see I live in a big house forget those poor people over there. And so that same thing recently happened over here in the U.S. I think Donald Trump during the Presidential debate said all black people live in the inner city. And black people were like ‘I don’t live in the inner city, I live in this big house…’ but some black people do live in the inner city. Can we talk about why? And all that goes back to slavery and, you know, segregation and pricing people out. So it’s like we always have to defend ourselves but sometimes I feel that we have to defend ourselves to the detriment of some actual reality.”   

“Through the years, I have learned that Homeland is borderless. It has little to do with land itself, but the people who make you feel understood, loved, and at peace.”

Evelyn collaborated with fellow YouTuber Jouelzy to make the video African & African Americans [A Hesitant Convo] and they used the hashtag #BlackLikeMe to organize everybody’s responses to their video. Evelyn tells me, “some of the comment section was a hot mess! Jouelzy keeps telling me till this day, people are still commenting on that video and she’s over it.” I asked Evelyn if she can remember what some of the comments were, “my favorite responses are [from] people who are like me and are first generation whatever, whether it’s first generation from Haiti and now live in New York or some country in Africa and now live in the U.K. and they also identify as black first [over African]. So that was cool to see that I’m not the only one who feels black is the biggest term I can use. I’m black first and then everything else is just adding to my culture, to my story. But I was also really interested in the comments of people who didn’t think they were black but associated themselves with their country saying, “I’m not black I’m Haitian”… and I’m like [sighs]… I didn’t understand what that meant. And so I liked that even if I didn’t agree at least I learned a lot because maybe my parents are the same way. They don’t walk around saying I’m black they walk around saying I’m Kenyan. Until they move to a country where black and white matters if you are from a black country that may not matter as much, so that was important for me to understand and that’s why the comment section was cool.”

And this is the importance of Evelyn: through her accessible videos and charming personality she is able to broach topics that are rarely discussed, encouraging diverse people around the world to pick up the conversation where she left off.

Finally, before parting, I asked her the question of the season: what does Homeland mean to her? She left me with a poetically simple and yet profound answer that I was beginning to understand was characteristic of Evelyn. “Through the years, I have learned that Homeland is borderless. It has little to do with land itself, but the people who make you feel understood, loved, and at peace. I spent so much time feeling “unclaimed” or in some sort of cultural identity limbo, but if I treat people as my Homeland, family both biological and chosen, then I can never be lost.”

My top 5 Evelyn from the Internets videos:

  1.  Calling in black
  2.  KENYAN? AMERICAN? OR NAH?!!!
  3.  Beyonce Said Drink This #Lemonade, Heaux!!
  4.  So NOW It’s Cool To Be From Wakanda?!
  5.  The One Reason Drake Would Never Text Me

 Photos of Evelyn provided by Evelyn.

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Julia Chanda Zvobgo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Of Africa’. She was born in Zimbabwe and raised in The Netherlands. As an Afropean she is always looking for new and creative ways to “make the invisible, visible”. She is a co-founder and a member of 'ethnovision' a collective of visual anthropologists and filmmakers. Julia also volunteers as the Director of Communications & Development for Tariro House of Hope, an NGO that transforms the lives of children and their communities in Zimbabwe.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for featuring me, Of Africa fam!

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