We have all seen them: the aggrieved-looking black man in glasses using the phone to either report someone’s bad potato salad or snatched edges; Beyonce in various states of queenly nonchalance or slayage; members of the Real Housewives of Atlanta cast giving side-eye or other comically dirty looks. All of those images, plus others, are collectively being referred to as “digital blackface.”
Admittedly, when I first read the term, I thought it was going to be about darkening skin colors in gifs and memes. That was not it.
Apparently, when non-people of color use a gif or meme with a person of color, it can be a case of digital blackface.
The controversy allegedly arises from people who are not black, declaring that “this is me” and posting a gif or meme with black people in them.
Why some people are finding a problem with the digital images is that they are supposedly an extension of the idea that black people exaggerate emotions and facial expressions in ways that many people find funny. In short, it is 21st-century minstrelsy.
Several news outlet have reported on the issue, including Teen Vogue, The Guardian and elsewhere.
But does the problem exist as stated? To answer that would require knowing the mindset of those who post the material. If the features of people represented have not been altered, then I don’t see a problem. Moreover, the gifs are funny. To regulate who can identify with them and find them funny is starting a precedent wherein someone else will be telling others what they can find funny.
People who have argued against the use of gifs and memes claim the usage supports the stereotype that black people are loud and expressive at all times. I don’t see that. The digital material captures one moment in time, usually with movements or facially expressions that are found universally humorous.
As the 21st century continues to evolve, some sensitivities have to be examined carefully before erroneously claiming something is offensive when it has the same effect on different people.