Blackface is a form of make up that actors and actresses used to represent themselves as black people within the theaters. The practice promoted multiple stereotypes of black people during the 19th century as uncle toms or coons that were happy to sever their plantation owners. Although blackface is no longer a part of theater, it still rears it’s ugly head at fraternity and sorority parties or anywhere else people want to represent black people. Now we have the new phenomenon of Digital Blackface in the tech space.
Digital Blackface is the practice of non black people claims of black identity through social media sites and technology. It involves using a fictional blackface to promote stereotypes and images that are desired by non black individual. Over the past several years there have been recent forms of digital blackface within social media apps, parody accounts, and memes.
Mobile Apps Using Digital BlackFace
In celebration of 4/20 , Snapchat came under fire this week for Digital Blackface. Snapchat introducted a new filter that allows users to transform their selfie into a black skinned version of Bob Marley. The filter adds a beanie crochet hat, dreadlocks, african nose, and darkened skin color to anyone’s photo. The day 4/20 is universally known as the marijuana holiday around the world. Police officers used the radio code 420 to label people who were violating the law by consuming marijuana.
This Bob Marley snap filter is disrespectful to his legacy. @Snapchat
— OXTAIL GAWD (@ThatDudeMCFLY) April 20, 2016
The probelm with the filter is that it marginalizes Bob Marley accomplishment to weed smoking. The majority of Snapchat users took offense. Snapchat responded by saying that they worked out an agreement with the Bob Marley estate to use the filter. Snapchat is not the only app that allows digital blackface. Face Swap Live is another app that allows users to swap faces of celebrities, friends, and families with your photos. Face Swap Booth, Facebook’s MSQRD, and Face Stealer are other apps that people are using to swap faces. Face swapping apps seem to be fun on the surface until they are used to demean and bully others. The apps are not the issue but the users that use them to target black people are the real and only issue. For example, Big Bang’s Taeyang had to apologize recently for using a face swap simulator app to swap faces with Kanye West. He posted on Instagram using the app stating that this is the Year of the Monkey in celebration of Lunar New Year.
Parody Accounts Using Digital Blackface
Digital Blackface is prevelant among twitter parody accounts. Non black individuals create fake profile pics usually of a celebrity to tweet what they deem as humorus tweets regarding their perception of black behavior. Parody accounts such as Things Black Folks Like or BlackPeopleProbs are prime examples of parody accounts created by no black individuals. @TheSaintNegro29 maybe one of the most famous Digital Blackface accounts on Twitter. “Saint” uses a caricatured black face as his twitter avatar. That avatar is placed over BlackLivesMatter movement members or any other black people that the “Saint” chooses to mock with his parody account. Below is an example of one of his posts.
— #Fergtards™ (@FergSays) April 20, 2016
Below are some Digital Black Face Parody accounts that are rampant on Twitter.
Beating the shit out of their kids in public
— ThingsBlackFolksLike (@Stuff4blackppl) April 17, 2016
Cheated on my spelling test today . Eye thinck eye ded prittee gud .
— BlackPeopleProbs (@_ShitISayy_) February 20, 2013
Memes using Digital BlackFace
A meme is a photos or video with words on them used to typically described some type of cultural phenomena that is trending on social media. You can’t watch popular TV shows like Empire or Scandal without viewer’s posting memes on Twitter to provide reaction to a scene on the show. There is an entire industry of meme generator apps that have been developed to take advantage of this social media phenomenon. Sites and apps such as Quicklime allow users to engage in Digital Blackface. Below is a Meme that someone used at Quickememe.com to make fun of African Americans.
Meme Generator is another meme site that actually has a collection of old 19 century based blackface style memes. Users can simply place their caption over the blackface and upload it to their popular social media site to share.
Swap Face apps are taking off along with memes but their has to be some type of accountability for the use of racist images. We have to call out the racist use of digital technology regardless of race or color. There has to be a call to Digital Citizenship to make sure that people act responsible on social media channels. If not then we will revert back to the 19th century except this time the racism will be digital.