The American Sin Factory dredged up and reimagined its latest model last week–digital blackface. It joins all the phobias, isms, and abuses lining the shelves of The Sin Library. Those shelves are beginning to buckle under the weight of the rapid proliferation of contrived transgressions: fatphobia, ableism, microaggressions of all sorts, cultural appropriation. As the grievances pile up, many ask, “Is there an end to this?”
Now, the idea of mimicking, pretending, imitating–let’s reduce it to ACTING–are under assault. Conveying an image (a persona) not consistent with the person’s native presentation, can be perceived as some kind of disrespect or affront to a person of the group in which the behavior is natural or typical.
Saying North Dakota or Minnesota with a Norwegian accent or even “you betcha” can be insulting to Scandinavians. Using “y’all” when you’re not from the South is derogatory to Tennesseans. Maybe using chopsticks is off-limits now. Who can keep up?
CNN’s John Blake calls digital blackface “one of the most insidious forms of contemporary racism.” Later in his piece, Blake defines digital blackface: “a practice where White people co-opt online expressions of Black imagery, slang, catchphrases or culture to convey comic relief or emotions.” Other sources suggest white persons using black slang to demonstrate emotion or exaggeration is digital blackface.
Common terms used in the black culture which should now be avoided by whites include “chile” instead of child, bougie (derivation of bourgeoisie), and a hot mess. Referring to a woman as “sista” is also verboten.
Much of the fuss about digital blackface erupted because of the GIFs derived from Oprah Winfrey’s facial responses during her televised interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on CBS in 2021. Wanting to express dismay, puzzlement, astonishment, or even unbelief, rather than spell out their feelings, texters insert an Oprah GIF. Because Oprah is black, white persons who use these GIFs are engaging in digital blackface.
To those who want to succumb to this prohibition, it’s simple: if the slang you’re using is not germane to your culture, eliminate it from your vocabulary. Stop using GIFs and emojis online.
In short, become humorless.