Have you ever sent a dark-skinned emoji or a GIF containing a black person, either via text message to your friends or publicly on social media? Well, I hate to break it to you, but if you’re white, that means you’re racist – or at least that’s what one BBC contributor argued in a recent segment equating wrong-race emoji usage to “digital blackface.”
Victoria Princewill, a columnist for Guardian, stars in the short clip (watch below). The video begins with a trigger warning advising viewers that the clip contains historical footage of minstrel shows, which often saw white people dress up in blackface to perpetuate negative stereotypes about African Americans.
She then goes on to argue that society is dealing with a massive case of “digital blackface” occurring right under our noses. GIFs involving black people, Princewill argues, are the “most popular” because they feature “black people being dramatic,” drawing comparisons to several frequently used GIFs and their minstrel show ancestors.
The presenter then pivots to the rampant issue of “white people using dark-skinned emojis,” which Princewill believes is a “form of cultural appropriation” – that means “paying little respect to someone else’s culture and using it however you please,” she helpfully explains. We see an image of a white woman wearing dreadlocks to illustrate the point.
But why does any of this matter?
“Black people are not here for other people’s entertainment,” Princewill explains. “We’re not symbols of excessive emotion. And we aren’t here to make you look more sassy, more sexy or more street. We don’t want to be seen as having two-dimensional personalities. Let us decide for ourselves how we wish to be perceived.”
Facebook commenters were quick to poke holes in Princewill’s thesis.
“’Black people are not here for other people’s entertainment’ but the black people shown in the GIFs are literally entertainers…” quipped one person, while another observed: “She talks about cultural appropriation while wearing straight hair? Listen, I am a black person, and I don’t care what emojis people use or the GIFs they put up.”