"We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs"
August 2, 2017 9:18 PM   Subscribe

From Teen Vogue: "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."
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”?
posted by Charity Garfein (74 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am An Old so have only just learned to use gifs* but have found myself uneasy with a lot of the giffing I see because of this, and am incredibly grateful that someone has articulated why. I'm so much more comfortable with animal gifs. That's probably exploitative of animals, but I don't even think they can even really see a screen so I'm going to pretend that's okay for now.

*I learned HTML before I had access to the graphical internet because it mostly didn't exist yet, whippersnappers.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 PM on August 2, 2017 [26 favorites]


Yeah this bugs the hell out of me, like when white people use AAVE. Especially when they retort that "hey it's all internet culture" as if racism doesn't exist online or something.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:47 PM on August 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


God yes. We recently adopted Workplace (literally Facebook for work) at my company, and the sheer volume of white people using reaction gifs of PoC, usually Drag Race contestants, was making me itchy in a way I was finding hard to explain. This seems to have nailed why.

I've already gotten myself in trouble as the PC No Fun Brigade so I probably shouldn't, but the temptation to post this the next time someone uses one will be strong.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:28 PM on August 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Yeah this bugs the hell out of me, like when white people use AAVE.

There are people here who do this constantly and it's literally unbearable, I break out in rage hives.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:43 PM on August 2, 2017 [14 favorites]




I sort of wish the article had really committed and used Meghan McCain for 100% of the embedded examples instead of just the 85% it settled on.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:52 PM on August 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


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.”

It always surprises me how resistant some people are to something as simple as thinking about their own actions and ideas.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:54 PM on August 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


When they rolled out emoji of different skin tones, I was like cool, what's mine... Then I realised, wait, I'm Chinese, am I really meant to be the default yellow people...
posted by xdvesper at 10:57 PM on August 2, 2017 [17 favorites]


I found myself agreeing with this article nearly 100%. As someone who also feels a bit too "old" to use GIFs as a form of post text neo-hieroglyphic communication, I'm sort of uneasy with the even the basic etiquette of GIF-based chatting.

To me, they always seems like the annoying funny person who's only capable of speaking in what used to be Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell references. (Not sure what the new generation uses. YouTube celebrities? Are people quoting PewDiePie incessantly now?)

Scene: Standing around the office watercooler.

Me: Hi, did you get that time sensitive email I sent you?
Fun Guy: You're my boy, Blue!
Me: Ah yes. I acknowledge that you are referencing the movie Old School. I have also seen that movie, good jape! About that email?
Fun Guy: If you ain’t first, you’re last.
Me: Yes, yes, another reference. Very witty. I am also familiar with that movie, does this mean we're friends?

It's a sort of awkward non-humor or humor by association. The GIFs make me feel weird because I usually don't know the context of the reality show or sitcom. In my head I'm thinking, "that POC women seems upset about something, I wonder why". My media consumption is pretty much limited to netflix so a lot of Fashion Competition Housewives of Jersey Shore stuff falls through the cracks.

I do have a few questions:
Who actually makes GIFs. I know the process isn't hard, but who is taking these videos and converting them into little pop culture nuggets? As mentioned in the article, Vine was seen as a "black" cultural thing. Are their more POCs making GIFs? Does this explain the skew?

How do the search algorithms in GIPHY or GIF Keyboard work? If I want to express exasperation and sassy black woman comes up, am I just going to use it because it's first? Are people just being lazy?

I'm just saying that the answers might be more prosaic than the author suggests. If there were more variability in GIFs and if the GIF providers changed the order of suggestions, would this change overnight? Could a dedicated group of people flood the GIF services with hundreds of more racially diverse options?
posted by Telf at 11:14 PM on August 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


Meant to ask this above.

Is this an extension of the time when everybody was saying "You go girl!" in a sort of Oprah-inspired voice? I imagine those people felt that they were expressing a solidarity with women of color but that always weirded me out too.

I wonder if people's texting behavior changes if there is a POC in the conversation group. I suspect it does. That implies that at some level they know it's not really kosher.
posted by Telf at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I am very guilty of this and will stop doing it from here on out. Thank you for sharing this article.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2017 [31 favorites]


Related: Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji

I use the Type IV skin tone on Slack. This is because, while "white", it's how my skin looks for most of the year. It would be weird to use Type I-II.
posted by My Dad at 11:37 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is why I only chat with prickly pear and pineapple friend stickers.

But yeah, it's gross, I agree.
Could a dedicated group of people flood the GIF services with hundreds of more racially diverse options?
If it were coordinated, it could happen.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:41 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have mostly Type-IIIish skin, but the hair colour I get from that emoji modifier looks much, much different from my own. I usually stick with whatever matching my hair, if I have to, or feel so much like to, use an emoji.
posted by runcifex at 11:44 PM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Generally in agreement that a lot more examination and awareness and care is needed, although there are two major caveats I apply in my own personal gif usage

-When you're referencing a show or character that you and your internet conversation partner are familiar with and aware of - if you're referencing that specific person/situation and not just "the general feeling of this gif" or "this random POC doing something."

-People who are purposefully and deliberately presenting themselves in a thought-out over-the-top manner, more or less designed to get people to make gifs of them. People who are going in wanting to become and happy to become gifs. (I do think this applies to many Drag Race contestants much of the time.)
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 12:16 AM on August 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


This article makes me glad that I'm not a MRW-gif-posting type of person, but I think the safest option if I were such a person would be to post gifs of hamsters or doges or what-have-you.
posted by xyzzy at 12:23 AM on August 3, 2017


Wow that was a fantastic article! Thanks for posting. I use gifs all the time, I wonder how much of the digital blackface phenomena has to do with what's available on a quick search. I use FB messenger to chat to my sister and husband all the time and use giphy.

I just punched in a few common reactions (excited, angry, laughing, bye) and it seems evenly split between about a third black people (men, women, children), a third white people (ditto) and a third animated stuff or animals. Things like this always make me wonder how the program actually works, like is there an algorithm that populates your search results? And if so is the algorithm funneling people towards making racist choices, or do people make racist choices and this effects the search algorithm?
posted by supercrayon at 1:00 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


I use default because I use weird technology and all the ZWJ games to produce skin tones I'd have to do manually.

I will admit that the atlantic article summed it up pretty succinctly:
  1. Choosing Type 1 (lol ginger) feels like a weird White Pride thing.
  2. Choosing any of the darker ones would feel like Dolezal-level appropriation.
  3. Yes it's utterly horrifying that I get to think of myself as "default".
This all reminds me of when I asked folks on Twitter if identifying as an "immigrant" was stepping in front of people. The overwhelming response was basically "lol dude just own it!" Obviously there are wrong ways to do it, but hiding from the label in the name of "taking a seat" seems to be wrong as well.

I think I'd set my defaults to Type 1 if that were a thing in my preposterous computer setup, having thought it through. I still have an "ugh, why does this feel like I'm bragging about it" reaction to the idea, but the revulsion of falling into the "I'm the default" trap wins out.

⬔ In conclustion, Unicode is a land of contrasts. ⬕
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:01 AM on August 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


runcifex: The hair fliperoo thing on the type III modifier always baffles me! I once tried to go through all the hoops to do representative emoji for Mrs. and Baby Hobo, and realised none of them fit for that one reason!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:04 AM on August 3, 2017


I guess my conclusion is that Unicode, just like the languages it attempt to encode, is not automatically equipped with the expressions for human nuances. You can make it infinitely complex and "ligatable" and there is still now way you can reduce sensibilities and connotations in one pictogram. Even if it's technically possible (for some value of possibility), it will be extremely difficult for the human readers, who are already grappling with such issues as identity when conversing in a natural language.

The racial GIFs are also like a kind of language. And language can be a heck of a powerful tool for reducing other human beings.
posted by runcifex at 1:36 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of the digital blackface phenomena has to do with what's available on a quick search.

I'd posit not much or at least that the causality originally goes the other way - the prevalence of gifs of PoC on GIPHY and similar gif searches is because of their popularity. You can trace their popularity back to before any dedicated gif search tools existed. The rise of gifs as a stand-in for a reaction (rather than as a short video) is almost entirely coincident with the rise of the gifs of PoC.

(I also don't think it's just gifs. So many memes a are just bad AAVE over a still or two of some PoC looking ridiculous in some way. A lot of it is straight up racism.)
posted by Dysk at 2:21 AM on August 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


I'm type V in slack emoji and what's interesting in our office is that I'm the only person in the entire office that has made use of modifying the skin-tone.

I tend to use the thumbs up emoji quite a bit and a few people have commented on how they always know its me because they'll see a dark brown thumbs up and just know without having to hover to see who posted the reaction. There are only a handful of visible minorities in my specific office.

Slack uses giphy and so many of the gifs that populate are black people reacting to thing type of gifs. I know that I've been guilty of using a few of these myself. I'll be more considerate and cognizant of my choices and what they mean, even if it is used in such a fleeting medium like slack, twitter, text.
posted by Fizz at 3:41 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


In terms of the emoji skin colour, as I understand it, the default is yellow? all of the face emojis are yellow too. I think, in the minds of white people in America and the UK etc, they are the societal 'norm' and they don't feel the need to identify themselves culturally? They think of themselves as the default, and yellow is the default emoji colour?

I'm not convinced there is a concern at identifying as white. Is that a fair assessment?
posted by trif at 4:25 AM on August 3, 2017


I've kind of stopped using gifs after the period where you curated you're own gif collection locally and everyone started using giphy/similar platform-provided search. Almost all my gifs were fandom-derived and things have changed a lot now that most people are all relying on the same cloud-based collection. So I do actually think that's had an impact, dysk. I still feel weird using a gif of unknown provenance (though I do still see a few knocking around that I was present at the creation of, originating in the dawn of ontd_p).
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:38 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


I sometimes struggle between not wanting to feel appropriative by using GIFs/memes/slang from a culture that is not my own and not wanting to feel segregationist by not using GIFs/memes/slang from other cultures. I really don't know how to reconcile it sometimes.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:50 AM on August 3, 2017 [25 favorites]


My own personal line is that I don't use "memes" that I don't know the origin of. Like, using Drag Race memes isn't inherently problematic because they're performers putting on a performance. But then you get shit like this as well, which just infuriates me.

(Although this angle is separate from the racialised factors in who gets "memed" and who doesn't, which is what TFA is really about.)
posted by tobascodagama at 5:28 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I still do a double-take when I see Teen Vogue as the source for articles like this. They are really doing great work.
posted by Azara at 5:49 AM on August 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


I sometimes struggle between not wanting to feel appropriative by using GIFs/memes/slang from a culture that is not my own and not wanting to feel segregationist by not using GIFs/memes/slang from other cultures. I really don't know how to reconcile it sometimes.
I have the same problem with my artwork. Like, I'm a white girl who mostly paints fantasy shit. I've had people ask me why I don't often paint PoC in my various galleries and I don't know what to say. On one hand I'd like to paint more PoC and be more representational in my art, but on the other hand I sort of fear a backlash for painting people from a group to which I do not belong. But I paint men, too, so.. I dunno. I try to be sensitive but I have no one to talk to about these things because it also feels rude to ask the PoC I know questions about this. I mean, it's not really their job to Speak For Their People To The Clueless White Artist about whether representation or appropriation would be at work in such a situation.
posted by xyzzy at 5:50 AM on August 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


In terms of the emoji skin colour, as I understand it, the default is yellow? all of the face emojis are yellow too. I think, in the minds of white people in America and the UK etc, they are the societal 'norm' and they don't feel the need to identify themselves culturally? They think of themselves as the default, and yellow is the default emoji colour?

In the US at least, I'd say The Simpsons has sort of skewed the standard (and possibly other cartoons which render "normal" humans in non-natural skin tones). it would be easy to look at any given scene full of yellow Americans and say, OK, that's post-racial, and those people clearly have no racial identity. But then you have characters like Carl and Apu, who have natural skin-tones for non-white identities, and the only real conclusion to reach is that these yellow people are the American "default", which is to say, white.

Skin tone is a shitty proxy for either ethnicity or cultural affinity, but it's the proxy we seem to be stuck with. Some people generally considered "white" are considerably darker in skin tone than people of the ethnicities considered "people of color", but particularly in stylized depictions, skin tone gets played up to differentiate the nonwhite characters (and sometimes the colorist doesn't get the memo...).

It'd be interesting to see how the emoji and cartoon-depiction issues play out outside of the greater Western-Europe-settled-area, i.e in places where "white" is not the ubiquitous ethnicity and the nature of ethnic and cultural divisions is more nuanced than it is here.
posted by jackbishop at 6:08 AM on August 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


Re the emojis, I was volunteering for Bernie, and in a Slack channel I noticed the new (to me) emojis, and I sent a white thumbs up, just to try out the new toy. The instant I saw it I was mortified. I just can't use it, although I understand the problem with being the default, too. It's gotta be better than "I'm white!"

Re the gifs, I don't really use social media so I mostly see them in comments from linked tweets, but I know I always check the avatar when I see these kind because they make me uncomfortable. What I don't get, though, is using gifs if you and your audience won't have a reference for, unless it's generic, like animals or something. But I'm probably doing it wrong.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:15 AM on August 3, 2017


Reaction GIFs where funny and edgy for approximately 15 minutes. It's OK, you can stop using them now.
posted by signal at 6:23 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I was charmed by this thank-you to "Black Twitter" for examples of how to gif-up a thread. Naturally, she uses a lot of Bollywood/Indian TV GIFs in her own threads!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 6:46 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Huh. You know, this probably shows my naivete but I'd assumed that the majority of people using these gifs were PoC themselves.

I don't spend a lot of time on social media where people use their own faces as avatars.. the one place I do see these a lot is on an ONTD spinoff site that has a fair number of PoC members.

Based on my limited experience, I would hazard a guess that the PoC gifs began with PoC themselves, but were subsequently appropriated by others who saw a funny or cool or expressive way to communicate without thinking hey, this isn't mine, maybe I shouldn't use this.

Which is the history of most cultural trends in America, innit.
posted by subdee at 6:49 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


A thing I've noticed with the emoji issue is that the skin tone thing creates more nuance in the meaning of the emoji when I'm texting with friends who have different skin tones. Like, if I just send a yellow ~nails~ or ~flexed bicep~ (my go-to's for expressing "kick-ass diva-ness/strength/achievement) it's not clear WHO I'm saying is a badass/diva/etc. But if I send a brown nails to my brown friend, I'm clearly saying YOU are the diva. If I (a light-skinned person) send a white nails, I'm saying, look, I am a diva.

I kind of like this extra level of meaning, actually. It would feel weird to do it with people who don't use the skin tone emojis themselves but I like doing it with friends who do.
posted by aka burlap at 6:56 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Thinking outside a "western" context, Ivorian and Nigerian friends I text on WhatsApp use the darkest skin tone emoji; my Peruvian friend uses the medium tone. I (a white person) use the lightest tone because it feels ridiculous to pretend that I'm a person with no race, especially when they are actively signifying theirs.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:07 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't always use gifs, but when I do, it's Nicholas Cage. /dos equis guy

(but more seriously, i have to say i've noticed this as well, and thanks to this article i'm giving myself a hard think, and it's funny, i really do use mostly nicholas cage reaction shots.)
posted by cendawanita at 7:11 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm a dummy. What's AAVE?
posted by orrnyereg at 7:30 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


From my casual observation of Twitter it seems to me that the popularity of many of the reaction GIFs (and I would assume their creation in the first place) is owed in large part to Black Twitter. That feels like it should be an important part of the analysis? The article suggests white people are repurposing the images rather than lazily appropriating them, and it feels to me like most of the usage is the latter rather than the former.
posted by parudox at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm a dummy. What's AAVE?

African-American Vernacular English
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:40 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is an article I never expected to see but am ridiculously grateful for (especially considering I haven't even read it yet). I've gotten a lot of feelings of discomfort over the past 4 months or so with seeing exactly this kind of use of gifs and it's a feeling that's been there that I haven't been able to dig deeper into but even just reading the title of this post, like, I literally jumped up in my chair in recognition. So thanks, this is on the read during lunch break list.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Possibly unhelpful, possibly unrelated: what if people just responded to things using their own words they thought of instead of little videos they found?
posted by chinese_fashion at 7:47 AM on August 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra dot gif
posted by RobotHero at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2017 [22 favorites]


From my casual observation of Twitter it seems to me that the popularity of many of the reaction GIFs (and I would assume their creation in the first place) is owed in large part to Black Twitter. That feels like it should be an important part of the analysis? The article suggests white people are repurposing the images rather than lazily appropriating them, and it feels to me like most of the usage is the latter rather than the former.

Yeah it was also my impression that, as with all the AAE appropriation (and corresponding explainers that this is "millennial slang") this was an example of how the internet has kicked the cycle of "black people come up with something, white people pick it up as the new cool thing and act as if it came out of nowhere" into overdrive.
posted by atoxyl at 8:03 AM on August 3, 2017 [11 favorites]


Yeah I'm another one for whom this put into words vague feelings I wasn't quite able to name.

I also use the lightest emoji skin tone, because my skin is the lightest skin tone. Most of my friends who are not white use the emoji closest to their own skin tone so I figured I should, too. I do notice that not many of my white friends do that. I haven't actually talked about it with anyone. But part of being anti-racist is, in my opinion, actually seeing and admitting that whiteness exists and I am part of it. You can't change things you don't see. And it's not about what you happen to look like, it's about what you do. O
posted by jeweled accumulation at 8:15 AM on August 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


Even apart from my dislike of emojis and GIFs in general (a lot of the time, I don't even know what they're trying to convey), this sort of thing also makes me uncomfortable.

She's right that there's no clear line overall, but one guideline I'd suggest is that if any text associated with your image tries to phonetically render a dialect, it's probably pretty racist for someone who doesn't speak that dialect to use it. E.g., "Dis Gon B Gud," which I see people posting all the danged time. It's one thing if someone who speaks AAVE decides to render it that way, but man, if you don't, why are you spelling it like that? Especially considering that 'be' and 'good' are pronounced like that in every dialect as far as I know, but people don't feel a need to render them phonetically when it's some nasally white guy from Ohio saying it.

I am a pretty old person, and when I was a kid, people associated that sort of eye dialect with 19th century style casual racism, so it's weird to see people doing it now. I'm sure some of it is just white people reusing stuff that POC made, but it's hard to distinguish that from the Uncle Tom's Cabin style "please note that these people talk funny."
posted by ernielundquist at 8:58 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yeah it was also my impression that, as with all the AAE appropriation (and corresponding explainers that this is "millennial slang") this was an example of how the internet has kicked the cycle of "black people come up with something, white people pick it up as the new cool thing and act as if it came out of nowhere" into overdrive.

The author does link to several articles about this, I should say. I can't say I'm shocked that a couple degrees down the line you have someone searching for "sassy black lady gif" as a stock response, either - the accelerating direct appropriation of trends is just a side of this you can watch happen in real time.
posted by atoxyl at 9:11 AM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, wow...I think I've been doing this a bit. I think on some level I even knew I was doing it and shouldn't. Thanks for for posting this, I'll take much more time to pause and consider before I post something.
posted by AaronTheBaron at 9:33 AM on August 3, 2017


When the new skin-tone emoji's came out, I pretty much changed all the hand ones (thumbs up, ok, etc.) so that each one had a different skin tone because I thought I'd like to have some diversity in my skin tone options. I think I'm preferring to not be segregationist, as Rock Steady described above. (I'm white BTW)

GIF-wise, I usually use a gif from something I know. I don't like to use GIF's with unknown origins because of the reasons tobascodagama mentioned above. I see people I went to high school with using the POC reaction gifs, and yeah it made me really uncomfortable, but the people who do that do tend to be people who aren't good on race stuff anyways. They may not be full on white-power racists, but they definitely haven't thought about race enough to not say terrible shit on FB.
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:56 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think the emoji issue depends on who you are communicating with; friends, colleagues, or strangers. I don't know. I think it's fraught no matter what you do unless you're talking to friends who are at least sensitive to or aware of the issue.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


The only safe My Reaction When.
posted by HeroZero at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm on a Slack group that is part of an organization. As it so happens, we're all pretty close friends as well. We often use reaction gifs to answer questions ("who's going to be at the meeting tonight?" followed by all sorts of "me" and "I'll be there" reaction gifs).

A good friend of mine recently moved to town and joined our organization, and subsequently the Slack group. When she joined, I sent a "yay" reaction gif, which was of Wayne Brady from Whose Line is it Anyway?, flailing his arms and generally being goofy. I sent it because (a) I'd been a fan of the show for years and (b) I thought it was an accurate representation of how I felt at the time (I've been generally goofily excited about this friend coming to town).

Anyway, this article made me think twice, and I won't do it again.
posted by Lucinda at 10:25 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


The emoji issue really simplifies itself when you only ever use poop, heart-eyes, fireworks, dog, fart/wind, big red heart, sparkly pink heart, bag of money, tongue out ghost, robot, and sofa. (Please don't think that's a single emoji sentence. I don't love poop that much.) Plus Shaun The Sheep stickers, and Pusheen On A Moped. I am terrified of all the skin color emoji and just avoid them.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:26 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


oh my god white people

i am sitting here and reading you ramble on about emojis and all i can read is "i am uncomfortable with having to mark myself out as white because it makes me consciously think about my race for once in my life, so it stands to reason that poc must also be uncomfortable with it in the exact same ways that i am, so i will refrain from using the evil white emojis as so not to harm their poor delicate souls, but woe is my life because it is also bad the other way and look at all of my conflicted navelgazing as evidence that i have thought deeply and strongly about race and i am one of the good ones"

i promise you that just because you have angsty feelings about this, that does not make it THAT deep

i can feel my soul evaporating
posted by Conspire at 10:45 AM on August 3, 2017 [28 favorites]


I have been thinking of late of creating a custom set of reaction GIFs featuring yours truly. It is seeming like a better and better idea by the minute.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:48 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


grumpybear69 when and if you do, please tell me all of your tips and tricks for making them, so I can do the same thing!
posted by Grither at 11:06 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


The article was great! The related emoji thoughts are making it clear I should probably force myself to start using whatever emoji looks like me? Now I feel like sticking to the yellow emoji is sort of a micro-aggression in a weird way.
posted by Secretariat at 11:30 AM on August 3, 2017


white people should have to pay $25 cash money to e.g. bail reform orgs for every 15 minutes they spend angsting about emoji whiteness
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:44 AM on August 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


I kind of wish I could use Hex codes or something to tint emoji. If I have the option to be blue, I will always take the option to be blue.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:46 AM on August 3, 2017


Karmakaze: but do you have a professional white background?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:57 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Take all this and apply it to white people who comment with "Bye Felicia."
posted by BurntHombre at 12:02 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Conspire: Yeah, it's all pretty ridiculous. But growing up white and comfortable in the west is like growing up in a religion that you have to consciously re-examine and reject as an adult, occasionally in front of people who just say "What the hell are you even talking about? Why is this such an internal conflict for you?"
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:29 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Teen Vogue knocks it out of the park again.

I'd been uncomfortable, in a vague, undefined, sort of way with the fact that so many reaction gifs were black people. From popcorn eating to extreme surprise it seems that the white internet feels the need to express itself in the form of black people.

But I never thought too much about it beyond being mildly perturbed.

And there's Lauren Michelle Jackson in Teen Vogue perfectly expressing why it's problematic.
posted by sotonohito at 2:37 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


But growing up white and comfortable in the west is like growing up in a religion that you have to consciously re-examine and reject as an adult, occasionally in front of people who just say "What the hell are you even talking about? Why is this such an internal conflict for you?"

It's nice that you consider this to be personal growth for you. Me, I just want to have the innocence to look at emoji released in my and my friends' skin tones, and go, "oh, that's nice" and talk with other PoC about how nice it is to have this in mixed company, without having to think about the white gaze. Unfortunately, that is really, really fucking hard when white people choke out every iota of available space anywhere and everywhere with their feelings. This is a nice thing for PoC, and I want to be able to express that. I can never do so without a white person jumping in and making it about how difficult it is for white people to process this and how conflicted they are. Hell, I cannot even ignore it if I stay silent, because do you know how many times a week my phone pings with a white friend asking me something about race entirely out-of-the-blue and unsolicited, making it my responsibility to deal with their feelings and give them free therapy and find all of the solutions to their moral quandaries?

Your analogy is way too innocent and puts the onus on PoC to just roll our eyes and gently excuse your "odd" behavior (GUESS WHAT I DO LIKE 99% OF THE TIME). Maybe on the individual level it is, just a bunch of white people wanting to process and learn and grow. But you collectively need to figure out a way to do this that doesn't make every single mention of race into a complicated minefield of feelings for PoC to toe through unless we separate ourselves to go into PoC-only spaces (and then you start venting your spleen to us afterwards about how we're segregating ourselves and that's basically racism too, so that doesn't seem optimal either.) Maybe you individually don't do it that often, but the fact is that there are just so many of you and you'll kick us out of our jobs and maybe kill us if we don't act nice about it, and maybe this is something you all need to figure out among yourselves more quietly?

And if you think that's what you're doing when you post in an online space like this, this is exactly what PoC mean when we say that online spaces are too white. Because if you're typing out your comments thinking that you're writing thoughts for other white people solely, maybe take a second to think how I'm going to be reacting to that.
posted by Conspire at 2:58 PM on August 3, 2017 [30 favorites]


This is why I only chat with prickly pear and pineapple friend stickers.

Those are NOT prickly pears! Some of them are columnar cactii!

Prickly pear refers to cactus in the Opuntia genus. They are characterized by their paddle shaped cladodes. Even the original Nahuatl name, nohpalli, references the paddle shaped cactus.
posted by Dr. Curare at 4:22 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


It looks like it's only prickly pear on LG? Is that right? I don't know my cacti.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:13 PM on August 3, 2017


I do think of this often, and very much limit the number of gifs of POC I use.

Related: Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji

Is the reason "because most white people don't know how to change it from yellow?" Because I don't know how to change it from yellow. And this one time, I tried.
posted by greermahoney at 7:14 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


I didn't even know one could change it; though in my defence I think I've used less than a 100 emoji in my entire life.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on August 3, 2017


Conspire: I'm sorry to have contributed to what you describe.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:50 AM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Good, extremely freaking reasonable article.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2017


You know, if I were creating emoji I would have used Smurf blue for all of them. No one has Smurf blue skin, and I don't even know of a group of people who are referred to as being that. Then adding in colour modifications on top of that, sure, but why make any group the default? (This is also why I prefer the perfectly spherical, no hair versions from MSN circa 2000)
posted by Canageek at 4:05 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


Because then white people who don't (care to) know how to change it from blue will consider it "default" and slowly blue will be associated with white, just like how Simpsons/emoji yellow has been.
posted by anem0ne at 6:31 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Because then white people who don't (care to) know how to change it from blue will consider it "default" and slowly blue will be associated with white, just like how Simpsons/emoji yellow has been.

Is there a term for this process (thing-intended-to-be-unmarked-instead-becomes-marked-as-signifying-the-majority)? It's not the euphemism treadmill but it seems related.
posted by PMdixon at 8:27 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


I use the yellow cartoon smiley emojis because I just see them as extensions of this guy.

When it comes to hand stuff* or actual people faces or basically anything that's more approximating real humans, I use the white skin tone. Not gonna lie, I'm still not totally comfortable with it. After some self-examination I feel like my "is this racist" worries are really relics of the ol' "identifying someone's race is racist" fears--it's not like I'm pairing a thumbs-up with a Nazi meme. I'm going into plate-of-beans territory, but I see little things like using those emojis and identifying my whiteness as part of the process of opening up the race conversation among white people, understanding how being a white person affects my individual experience, and not defaulting to the mindset that the world is made of "people" and "people of color".


*hur hur hur
posted by schroedinger at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


like, maybe it's just me, but at this point I feel like if in a discussion I'd feel uncomfortable if someone found out I was white, it probably means that I need to identify myself as white. Or at least make sure I'm thinking real hard about how being white is affecting my opinions and approach to a conversation.
posted by schroedinger at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


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