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We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs

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Aizo

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Here's the article, We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs.
If there's one thing the Internet thrives on, it's hyperbole and the overrepresentation of black people in GIFing everyone's daily crises plays up enduring perceptions and stereotypes about black expression. And when nonblack users flock to these images, they are playacting within those stereotypes in a manner reminiscent of an unsavory American tradition. Reaction GIFs are mostly frivolous and fun. But when black people are the go-to choice for nonblack users to act out their most hyperbolic emotions, do reaction GIFs become ”digital blackface"?
Now, I'm not suggesting that white and nonblack people refrain from ever circulating a black person's image for amusement or otherwise. There's no prescriptive or proscriptive step-by-step rulebook to follow, nobody's coming to take GIFs away. But no digital behavior exists in a deracialized vacuum. We all need to be cognizant of what we share, how we share, and to what extent that sharing dramatizes preexisting racial formulas inherited from ”real life." The Internet isn't a fantasy — it's real life.
Then comes the more sinister side of this. Similar cases happen all over the comments section virtually anywhere, with or without a photo, often prefaced with statements like ”as a black man..." before proceeding to sound like anything but. In other instances, digital blackface is an orchestrated attempt by white supremacists to disrupt black organizing. Writer Shafiqah Hudson started the hashtag #yourslipisshowing to document instances of digital blackface in real time, joined by other black women writers and theorists such as I'Nasah Crockett, Sydette Harry, Mikki Kendall, Trudy, and Feminista Jones. As the name of the tag suggests, online minstrels are no more believable than their in-person counterparts to anyone who knows black culture and black people, rather than a series of types. Unfortunately, digital blackface often goes unchecked unless a black person does the work to point out the discrepancies in someone's profile.

But while these examples are particularly noteworthy for their malicious intent, digital blackface has softer counterparts, just like offline blackface. Digital blackface does not describe intent, but an act — the act of inhabiting a black persona. Employing digital technology to co-opt a perceived cache or black cool, too, involves playacting blackness in a minstrel-like tradition. This can be as elaborate as anon accounts like @ItsLaQueefa or as inadvertent as recruiting images of black queer men to throw shade at one's enemies. No matter how brief the performance or playful the intent, summoning black images to play types means pirouetting on over 150 years of American blackface tradition.
As a community that uses a lot of reaction GIFs, I think it's something that's worth giving some thought to. If you find yourself specifically choosing Black people to express your strong emotions consistently, think about why that is and what that says.

Be a defensive white man if this is old news.
 
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Aizo

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It's the perfect way to derail a thread and not actually discuss anything.
I recognize that the title along does seem somewhat perplexing. "What the hell is digital blackface? That doesn't sound real," but after reading at least the choice quotes, I think it's a thoughtful and reasonable article that really just asks people to give some thought about what they're perpetuating in using black people consistently to express their (often extreme) emotions.

I initially clicked on the article after my friend shared it while thinking, "I have no idea what that means. Let's see."
 
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Slayven

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Oh yeah, see this all the time on certain twitter threads. It is hilarious because you can tell it is someone playing from jump. usually happens hours after the thread has gone down because lets be honest white people don't be cheeking for black twitter unless something cool is happening or someone mentions Bernie
 

RoyalFool

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How long until all GIFs become microaggressions and banned from forums? The I've been offended Olympics shows no sign of stopping.
 
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Volimar

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Sounds ridiculous to me. People tend to have a large number of reaction gifs for a variety of occasions. Having a go to gif doesn't equate blackface.



Don't get me wrong. I'm sure there are racist stats using black reaction gifs as a stereotype persona because they think they're being funny or clever, but those people are just out and out assholes.
 

Aizo

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How long until all GIFs become microaggressions and banned from forums? The I've been offended Olympics shows no sign of stopping.
Did you read the article? I feel that it was pretty fair and doesn't ask for much.
Do you feel like you're being attacked? The article only asks to discuss it. You are not being told what to do or that you're racist for using gifs with Black people in them.
Sounds ridiculous to me. People tend to have a large number of reaction gifs for a variety of occasions. Having a go to gif doesn't equate blackface.
What part of the article did you find ridiculous?
 

Glass Rebel

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Interesting article and it's something I was aware of (more in relation to coli smilies but semantics) but never really thought about it in depth. Language evolves and whether we like it or not, image macros have become part of the language used on the internet and thus an element of our identity creation.

I don't think it's too much to ask to be aware of the implications of using predominantly black gifs. As the article says, no one is taking them away, it's literally just asking to talk about it.
 
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Jul 25, 2013
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Hm. I can see what they're saying, yeah. I've probably been guilty of it at some point or other, like picking up new phrases and vocabulary that I only use online.

Quite sure I'm not guilty of the gif thing, though. I use whatever gifs fit.
 

Sunster

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Then comes the more sinister side of this. Similar cases happen all over the comments section virtually anywhere, with or without a photo, often prefaced with statements like “as a black man…”
now this, I'm familiar with. I know this happens on GAF
 
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Volimar

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What part of the article did you find ridiculous?


If you go down a comment chain far enough you'll find all sorts of twats doing things they think makes them look clever. From "identifying as an apache helicopter" in transgender issue articles to people being caricatures for attention. Aside from the obvious racists I don't feel like this is a thing that should be blown out of proportion.
 
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Apt101

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This is one of the sillier concepts I've read in weeks. For the one thing, it doesn't need some labeling phrase that encompasses a broad range of actions. Just use simple language to explain bad behavior - example "people impersonating black Americans on social media in order to ridicule them and/or causes that some of them are compassionate about is a hurtful practice". To the point.

The other parts of this argument, I don't really know where to begin. Some people think that they are so special and sacred, and are insulted by so many things, or find insult in the minutiae of benign acts, that I am not sure they're really worth engaging. Basically, I'd suggest that 99.99999% of the time, if you see someone who is not black posting a GIF or image or meme including a black person, there's nothing sinister behind it. No desire to be something they aren't, or to exploit some other culture. They're just posting some stupid shit within pop culture that happens to include a black person - like people do all day and night with people of every race, in every country.
 

Media

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I feel bad because I only have one black gif in my collection.



I thought I needed more :(

It often makes me realize how white the media I consume is.
 
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Interesting read, wish I had paulmooney.gif on hand


If you go down a comment chain far enough you'll find all sorts of twats doing things they think makes them look clever. From "identifying as an apache helicopter" in transgender issue articles to people being caricatures for attention. Aside from the obvious racists I don't feel like this is a thing that should be blown out of proportion.
Yeah, this doesn't sound like you actually read the article. It talks about a lot more than this.
 

Keyser Soze

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It's the perfect way to derail a thread and not actually discuss anything."
I am not trying to derail the thread. If you find it annoying to the topic I will remove it.

I guess my GIF kinda suggest that if I were to post a reaction GIF (which is a rarity, but I just did it here....), I pay no conscious attention to the colour of the person's skin and/or gender when doing so. It is more about the expression the person (sometime animal) is conveying in the gif. It's interesting that the choice could be seen as an issue, but it never crossed my mind before. Yet, I am someone called Keyser Soze with a photo of Gob as an avatar, so that is confusing in itself.

Also, as an offshoot to this, does the fact that most GIFs originate from a TV Show / Movie in the first place, suggest the creator of the show, who captured that expression in the first place, shoulder some blame too?

To be honest, I need more time to think about this to form a solid opinion, but the initial opinion was one of confusion (hence the GIF).
 

serenewarfare

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Interesting article and point of discussion. I'd like to think that my gif usage never takes any of that into account, but who knows what sort of weird subconscious shit is happening when I choose a gif to post. I just pick what I think fits in the moment.

Well-written piece.

Here's another issue. Use words instead of gifs and emojis pls.
You ain't putting that genie back in the bottle. Sorry.
 
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bobawesome

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Here's another issue. Use words instead of gifs and emojis pls.
Just cut off Ban Puncher's arms while you're at it. It's all they have.

I used to see this in Popgaf a lot (I'm glad that mods have banned that community)
This is the best news I've heard in a while. I'm sure they must have contributed something to the community but for the life of me I'm not sure what. All I ever saw was gif spam.
 
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It's an interesting premise, although I feel like it falls into the same trap a lot of such discussions have -- the assumption that there is a singular "black" identity. You cannot suppose that any form of internet expression using images/memes involving people of high melanin content might be co-opting "black" identity without first making a pretty big assumption yourself about what that "black" identity is.

I've never in my life met two consecutive black people that were even remotely 'cut from the same cloth'. Everything from their musical interests to their taste in cars, clothing, and food as been as varied in my experience as that of any other race or national origin. To assign one identity to them as a whole and then try to build some sort of high-minded intellectual discourse over how we may or may not be using their identity/culture as a disparagement seems absurd just on its initial premise.

Now if someone is reposting ACTUAL blackface or has a pattern of only using black imagery andnonly in conjunction with emotional extremes, then by all means call them out on it. But asking the average user to self-censor for fear of being labelled said type of person just seems to me to be looking for a tempest in a teapot, sort o speak.
 

ZehDon

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I think the article is reaching, frankly, and is borderline ridiculous. Using reaction GIFs doesn't equate to adopting nor presenting a persona, let alone focusing on the race of the people within the GIFs. Typically, they're selected more for entertainment and comedic purposes, then to present an honest recount of a person's exact reaction and/or emotional state to whatever-thing. Unless you think literally thousands of people are attempting to convince the world that Weebay's shock and revelation is somehow a universal truth, common only to the human condition?

Let's get specific. I have a selection of Denzel Washington GIFs in my reaction list. I think we can all agree that Denzel Washington is black. As it so happens, I am not black. Why do I have these specific GIFs of Denzel Washington? Because I think the man is one of the greatest actors of any era, I love basically every film he's ever done, and damn it, I enjoy showing off his range any chance I get. He's iconic, talented, and worth any scrap of praise I can offer. I am not racist, nor am I donning blackface, by using GIFs featuring Denzel Washington. And, frankly, insinuations to contrary get under my skin.

 
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jiggles

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Well, shit, I am certainly guilty of this. I think primarily because White people reactions look so fuckin' dorky.

I'll try to do better
 
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