We checked our archives and the first reference to “digital blackface” — defined as “various types of minstrel performance that become available in cyberspace” — came in 2017, when Megan McCain was called out by Teen Vogue for using memes featuring black people. The issue came up again in 2018 when a social justice warrior tweeted that “if you’re white, please read up on digital blackface and why you should stop using GIFs/videos of black women for your own personal self-expression.” After GIFs of Oprah Winfrey went viral following her interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Slow Factory Foundation, “a non-profit dedicated to social and environmental justice,” warned us again to avoid digital blackface.
So we’re not sure why CNN recently decided to revive the “controversy” over “digital blackface,” but they did:
John Blake analyzes:
Some may say posting a video of Sweet Brown saying, “Oh Lord Jesus, it’s a fire” is just for laughs. Why overthink it? Why give people yet another excuse for labeling White people racists for the most innocuous behaviors?
But critics say digital blackface is wrong because it’s a modern-day repackaging of minstrel shows, a racist form of entertainment popular in the 19th century. That’s when White actors, faces darkened with burnt cork, entertained audiences by playing Black characters as bumbling, happy-go-lucky simpletons. That practice continued in the 20th century on hit radio shows such as “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”
Put simply: digital blackface is 21st-century minstrelsy.
“Historical blackface has never truly ended, and Americans have yet to actively confront their racist past to this day,” Erinn Wong writes in an academic paper on the topic.
“In fact, minstrel blackface has emerged into even more subtle forms of racism that are now glorified all over the Internet.”
Wong says that digital blackface is wrong because it “culturally appropriates the language and expressions of black people for entertainment, while dismissing the severity of everyday instances of racism black people encounter, such as police brutality, job discrimination, and educational inequity.”
Who the f**k is Erinn Wong and why should we care?
How to solve this problem?
“If you find yourself always reaching for a black face to release your inner sass monster, maybe consider going the extra country mile and pick this nice Taylor Swift GIF instead,” says Lauren Michele Jackson … in her Teen Vogue essay.
So John Blake goes to his editor at CNN and pitches a story about digital blackface, which is just a repeat of a seven-year-old Teen Vogue article, and the editor says, “Cool, run with it.”
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