The Guardian

Why are memes of black people reacting so popular online?

The trend for ‘digital blackface’ – from the Fleetwood Mac marching band to unimpressed Viola Davis – is more problematic than you think
Unimpressed... Viola Davis gif.

Amid the fanfare surrounding the release of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s surprise joint album and their video for APES**T, one group were paying particularly close attention: the professional gif creators employed by companies such as GIPHY, Tenor and Imgur. Because, as Beyoncé’s “Beychella” performance proved, you can never have too many gifs of a sassy, confident Beyoncé, right?

The online popularity of images of black people – particularly women and femme gay men – is a fact of internet life and, in recent months, an increasingly controversial one. Racist caricature and impersonation are widely accepted tools of white supremacy, but it’s when minstrelsy’s 19th-century traditional tools of boot polish and a wig are replaced with 21st-century equivalents that the confusion begins. Are gifs being used to disseminate racist stereotypes in cyberspace? Was the meme an example of “digital blackface”,? Was this the latest iteration of digital blackface in action? Or just a run-of-the-mill money-making scam?

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Guardian

The Guardian2 min read
World’s Fattest Parrot, The Endangered Kākāpō, Could Be Wiped Out By Fungal Infection
The world’s fattest parrot is facing an existential threat in the form of a dangerous fungal infection which has already endangered a fifth of its species. Seven of New Zealand’s native kākāpō have died in recent months after falling victim to the re
The Guardian3 min readScience
Photograph Lays Bare Reality Of Melting Greenland Sea Ice
Research teams traversing partially melted fjord to retrieve weather equipment release startling picture
The Guardian4 min read
Should Dating Apps Tell Us How Sexy We Are? | Coco Khan
App algorithms rank results so dating opportunities end up being hoarded by the few. One app told me my score