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digital Blackface

Speech

a form of appropriation where non-Black individuals use memes and gifs featuring Black people and even emojis with dark skin; a 21st century version of Black minstrelsy, which was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries

Issues

Digital Blackface is one of many ways of dehumanising Black individuals into exaggerated versions of themselves, especially Black women. Rarely are Black characters given subtle feelings, emotion or actions. Additionally, power comes into it as a non-Black person is using a Black person as a mask (hence where the minstrelsy comes in).

Digital Blackface is also an issue of representation and culture appropriation: memes and gifs are often used in spaces where no real Black people are present, which presents them as a prop to be used in all-white spaces. Black culture is stolen from Black people and commodified by non-Black people.

Examples

  • Online personas: It can go further than appropration. Falsified personas are easy to spot as they almost always use terms like "as a black woman..." [sic] and resort to incorrect and illegitimate use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE).1

    "On Twitter lie countless handles featuring a Black person’s image, run by users who are most assuredly not Black. These accounts, which often include a “ghetto” name — the formula prefix “La+” is a favored trope — are riddled with poor attempts at Black vernacular, and feature stereotypes from the minstrel stage." 2

  • Gifs

    "For while reaction GIFs can and do every feeling under the sun, white and nonblack users seem to especially prefer GIFs with black people when it comes to emitting their most exaggerated emotions. Extreme joy, annoyance, anger and occasions for drama and gossip are a magnet for images of black people, especially black femmes." 1

  • Emojis (using a darker-than-your-own skin-tone, especially when you are white)12

  • Simple actions like using dark toned emoji in text or social media posts

What To Do (instead)

If you are not Black, before using a Black person's identity to express or convey an idea, take a moment to reflect upon what you're doing and what message you're trying to convey. In most situations, you would probably be better off picking a gif or meme of a non-Black person, better yet, of a race you identify with.

Further Reading

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