White people using GIFs of black people is not a form of ‘digital blackface’

Sorry Teen Vogue, you’re reaching

You’ve opened your group chat and your mates are talking about dragging you to an event you’re not interested in. So, to politely put your disdain across, you use a GIF of Beyonce rolling her eyes or NeNe from Real Housewives of Atlanta looking distressed, so they can fully understand how much you’re just not feeling it.

According to this article from Teen Vogue, if you’re non-black you will have just committed ‘digital blackface.’ The modern version of white people in the 1800s dressing up as their very own slaves to entertain the masses. If you’re thinking this sounds slightly far-fetched, then I understand – because I’m black, and I think it is.

https://twitter.com/AshleighBridgex/status/891228434617163776

There are multiple examples of digital blackface. Ranging from highly racist memes which display untrue and nasty black stereotypes, to the running of a social media accounts, that uses stereotypical black names and text-speak to portray someone of black origin. Then there’s what Teen Vogue are discussing, which is white people using GIFs of black people in extreme emotions: sassy, bitchy, annoyed or overt laughter, for example.

But here is the very significant difference: the first describes white people forming a black depiction in order for people to laugh at it. They are creating a false identity based on racist ideology for entertainment purposes, just like they did in the 1800s.

https://twitter.com/mixedhunty/status/894007813801996288

The latter however, is content that has been created by somebody who is in fact black, as a lot of these GIFs are reality TV moments as opposed to scripted lines. So this ends up prompting a whole load of questions.

Can white people laugh at black entertainment? Isn’t that what we’ve been longing for? Should only black people support black entertainment? To be thorough, I am not in any way trying to undermine the very real reality of digital blackface and the horrible effects it has. However, when black people feel the need to tell non-blacks that they shouldn’t use a GIF or shouldn’t laugh at a joke, we create more exclusion instead of inclusion.

https://twitter.com/thediyora/status/880752229640269824

There is a very serious issue with anyone describing American slang as black-talk, or “black vernacular.” Why do we roll our eyes at white people saying “bitch bye” and “yaaas” and at the very same time try and tell the world we’re more than a stereotype? It makes no sense.

There’s no problem with any one using these American slang terms. Because there’s no such thing as black-talk and white-talk. Just people who are brought up in different socio-economic backgrounds and geographical locations. We must stop ramming it down people’s throats that black people speak one way and white people speak another. The assumption that white people shouldn’t use black GIFs, isn’t okay.

https://twitter.com/tbhjuststop/status/894317264949981184

Where does that leave us? How do we create less walls by making those whom wanted to be so included and mean no harm – feel so extremely excluded and wrong?

This is the cause and creation of the secret racism we find ourselves living in today. If a white person wants to tell us that they aren’t feeling it today, and the only meme that gets that feeling across is a GIF of a black person, then go ahead and post it. Black people are not all the same, and yes sometimes GIFs may further perpetuate the idea that we are all identical, but this isn’t the fault of the user. This is in fact the fault of society and institutional racism, and addressing does not begin by silencing.

So, use your black girl memes and use your black boy GIFs as well as your Taylor Swifts, as long as you know that they do not represent all black people. That way you don’t have to go home and laugh in private there.

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University of Sheffield