In person, as in her videos, Ms. Ramsey is expressive and animated, often pumping her fist into her hand to punctuate a point or breaking into an impression in the middle of a story, but she pairs this playfulness with biting sarcasm. In the first episode of “Decoded,” for instance — in which she discusses the ramifications of associating black Americans with watermelon and fried chicken — there is an interlude in which she bites into a slice of watermelon, moans and, with a knowing look to the camera, says, “Tastes like oppression.” In another, she plays an instructor at a “race ambassador” training and cheerfully promises to teach the group of people of color to navigate the “brand new, awesome responsibility” of representing an entire culture in their office or neighborhood.
But she also has a sober side. On the panel on mental health in March, she was thoughtful and subdued. She listened more than she spoke, her face relaxed into an expression of concern while one of the other comics joked about the excruciating process of having her eggs frozen. Ms. Ramsey gave career advice, encouraged positive self-talk and offered the audience resources for finding a therapist. Later, when I introduced myself to her, it occurred to me that, though Ms. Ramsey is tall at 5 foot 10 inches, and I am nearly a foot shorter at 5 feet, she bent to my eye level.
“I think it’s just part of my personality,” she said a month later, when we met again on a rainy, blustery day in late April, this time at a nail salon near Union Square. Ms. Ramsey says she inherited her father’s emotional breadth (at the panel in March, she quipped, “My dad’s basically Drake”), and that she often tries to put herself in others’ shoes.
This ability — to empathize even with those who disagree with her — is core to her work. But it’s gotten her some blowback. “I’ve had lots of people say, ‘Oh, Franchesca’s content is just for white people,” she said. “But I try to talk about identity in a way that’s accessible to lots of people and is not a pointed finger,” because “we can’t all wake up and know everything.”
Even before YouTube or Twitter, the internet was kind of Ms. Ramsey’s thing. An only child, she was raised in West Palm Beach, Fla. and exposed to computers early; she took a typing class in the third grade and had a website by the time she was in high school. It was the mid 1990s, and she didn’t own a digital camera, so she’d upload scanned photos to her site and blog about what was going on in her life.
“Every party, I would take pictures at, every play,” she said. “I liked just keeping track of everything. For some reason I just thought it was really cool. And I didn’t care that no one was reading it.”