Tana Mongeau talks racism accusations, the end of apology videos, and becoming a better role model

  • Tana Mongeau was accused of racist microaggressions by two former friends, Kahlen Barry and Simplynessa15 (Nessa Briella), over the summer. 
  • She posted a "long overdue apology" in September, but received further criticism for her robotic delivery and over-editing.
  • Others also took issue with the fact it took three months to address the allegations while she continued to party during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Mongeau spoke to Insider about the backlash and what she would have done differently.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Tana Mongeau posted her first YouTube video in several months in September, which was a "long overdue apology" addressed to some former friends and her fans. She had been accused of racist microaggressions in videos posted in June and July by two influencers she used to work with — Kahlen Barry and Simplynessa15 (Nessa Briella) — and immediately came under pressure to respond.

But while Mongeau kept posting Instagram stories with promises of addressing the allegations and concerns, it took over three months to publish her apology video.

Mongeau is one of YouTube's most popular creators, who has risen to fame over the last six years with her candid, over-the-top storytime videos, and controversies such as her turbulent relationship with fellow YouTuber Jake Paul.

She spoke to Insider about the things she had to face up to about herself over the summer, and how she's still on a learning curve to be a worthy role model to her 5.5 million-strong fanbase.

Tana Mongeau and Kahlen Barry's friendship

Barry posted his video, "finally revealing the truth about Tana Mongeau," on June 16 where he accused Mongeau of gaslighting and dismissing his feelings and concerns over her using racial slurs in old footage and social media posts when they worked together in 2016.

Barry told Insider he stood by Mongeau publicly at the time due to having a collaborative channel together, but voiced his concerns to her in private. He said Mongeau was not receptive of what he had to say, making him feel like she was dismissing him as an "angry Black person."

"It was very shocking," Mongeau said of watching the video for the first time. "It's definitely not something I saw coming at all."

She said her initial reaction to the internalized shame and anger at what she was watching was to start questioning everything she knew about herself. But instead of facing up to her past, she sought to distract herself from it at parties and gatherings. This, in hindsight, was the catalyst for further harming her relationship with Barry and her fans.

Tana Mongeau and Kahlen Barry.
YouTube

Fans and commentators were left confused by Mongeau's reaction when she promised to address Barry's story then went silent on the matter for weeks on end. Instead of explanations, they saw Mongeau partying — often maskless — on her Instagram story.

In one particularly memorable clip, Mongeau and Erika Costell — another ex-girlfriend of Jake Paul — told the camera they "don't f—ing care." What Mongeau and Costell had meant as a reference to old tensions between them was taken as a blatant disregard for public health and their fans' opinions.

This also led many to see Mongeau's support of the Black Lives Matter movement as performative, and culminated in many more negative videos about her behavior.

"It's unfortunate because I look back and I would have handled things so differently now with all of the things that I feel I've learned over this time," Mongeau said. "I just feel like I was in an industry, and still am in an industry, where the normality has always been to handle those situations internally and push things under the rug and not address them head-on."

'That video was a really big wake up call for me'

She said she wished she had reached out to Barry directly as soon as he'd posted his video to apologize; to have a conversation about what really happened between them. But as a very emotionally reactive person, Mongeau couldn't take the pressure and "ran away" from what was happening.

She said she didn't see Barry's video any differently to the masses of videos made about her every day, picking apart her mistakes and reminding her when she falls short of people's expectations. She had normalized the negative attention, she said, and had learned to no longer bother watching videos with her name in.

"It wasn't even until I realized that this situation was very different that I dove into these videos and began to start really watching everything Kahlen was saying and researching stuff," she said. "This was definitely an eyeopening situation, and that video was a really big wake up call for me."

She said it was also a mistake to promise videos that she wasn't "in the headspace" to deliver.

"I was so afraid of people being angry with me," she said. "My entire career, that's what you're taught by everyone in the industry — whenever people are angry at you, the best thing you can do is just try to make people like you again."

Tana Mongeau has been opening up about her mental health over the past year.
Tana Mongeau / YouTube

When Mongeau finally did post her apology video, it wasn't met with praise. It currently stands at 107,000 dislikes to 39,000 likes and the comments are flooded with criticisms of Mongeau's robotic, emotionless delivery, over-use of jump cuts, and lack of clarity about what she was actually apologizing for.

Mongeau said she understands why people were disappointed and frustrated with how she came across, and would rewind to do it all differently if she could. She said it was the one time she really needed to connect with her fans, but she failed.

"I was so afraid of putting any ounce of emotion into that video," she said. "I wrote out bullet points and I simply read them point-blank with no emotion … And people did not like that."

She said she still stands by everything she said — that she's sorry for her past actions, but she is not a racist person.

"I just think I could have delivered it in a far better way," she said.

The apology wasn't accepted

Mongeau hasn't spoken to Barry directly yet, which is why neither Barry nor Briella accepted her apology. She said she doesn't know if she will reach out because she doesn't know if Barry would want to talk to her, but it is something she thinks about every day.

"I want to know the right thing to do without stepping on any toes or further upsetting Kahlen, and further angering him in any way," she said. '"I just don't know where we stand and it breaks my heart."

Mongeau said she isn't sure Barry wants to hear from her, whether that's in private or a live stream conversation, and is trying to figure out the best "public approach" to "address so many of my angering and frustrating actions." (Barry has told Insider several times he only ever wanted a private apology and was against her making a public video about his accusations.)

Tana Mongeau in Shane Dawson's docuseries "The Truth About TanaCon."
Shane Dawson / YouTube

Mongeau said one thing she can do is to show her followers through her actions that "there's not an ounce of me that is micro-aggressively racist."

"I know for a fact that is not who I am as a person, and I will continue to clarify that until the day that I die," she said.

"But if I ever hurt [Barry] in any way, all I want to do is apologize for the pain that I've caused, no matter what. And it's a hard situation to find peace in knowing that someone might always think that no matter what you say."

The endless apology video cycle

Mongeau has posted several apology videos over her YouTube career, and said she wanted to end that cycle of making mistakes and apologizing. She said she would rather address mistakes when she makes them, instead of contributing more apologies into the internet space that people may not take seriously.

She said she also understands and validates many of the claims made about her behavior over the last few months.

"If it wasn't for their voices and the things they were saying to me, I would not have been so hard on myself and actually faced a lot of these things and grown so much," she said.

"And I understand their frustration with everything I was doing, from partying, to saying videos were going to be out, and then not putting them out, to being emotionless and dry in my actual video, to continuing to just be frustrating."

She said her focus is now on building the trust with her audience back by trying to be the best role model possible, rather than "someone that's known as just problematic." Part of that is going to be sharing the journey she's been on with a therapist in upcoming videos.

"It was having life coaches come in, it was struggles with sobriety, it was a terrible unearthing of so many demons and it's been just very … not cute," she said. "A lot of the things [my followers] were calling me out for, I was realizing at that time."

Being a better role model

For the first five years of her career, Mongeau refused to take on the title of a role model. She now realizes there came a point where it's wasn't her choice anymore, and she can no longer ignore that she is an influence on millennials and Gen Z. Part of coming to terms with that is learning about herself and her flaws, she said.

"I think this situation taught me a lot about myself and the way I've always so explosively handled problems like that," she said. "I've always handled situations like this incorrectly, and this was definitely the moment where all of that kind of came to a head and I realized that I didn't want to continue to live my life like that."

Whatever happens, Mongeau said she wants to come from a place of complete honesty from now on, which includes talking more about her mental health and taking responsibility for her actions during "downfalls or nights where I am my absolute worst."

"It's not my place to expect or ask forgiveness," she said. "I'm just going to live my most authentic journey, and whatever comes with that is the hand that I've been dealt."

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