White and non-black people are being told not to share any of the numerous Oprah Winfrey memes from her bombshell interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – because they are a form of ‘digital blackface’.
The Slow Factory Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to social and environmental justice, this week issues a warning about digital blackface, describing it as an online phenomenon where white and non-black people share GIFs and photos of black people to express emotion, and stating that it often perpetuates negative stereotypes that they are ‘aggressive, loud, and sassy.’
In an Instagram post, the organization used an Oprah meme as a direct example of ‘digital blackface’ – sparking a furious debate in the comments where some agreed with the message, while others hit back, claiming that banning non-black people from posting the memes equates to ‘black erasure’.
Viral: The explosion of Oprah Winfrey memes following her interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has prompted a fierce debate about whether they are digital blackface
Funny or not? The tell-all interview has inspired countless memes, many of which center around Oprah’s stunned reactions
‘Performing Blackness, be it IRL or online, is not an acceptable form of expressing reaction or dissatisfaction, especially not in exchange for likes and retweets,’ the organization wrote in its post.
The Slow Factory Foundation went on to insist that people shouldn’t be sharing the recent onslaught of Oprah memes just because they’re popular, suggesting that they are reminiscent of white people wearing blackface in minstrel shows.
‘Since the #MeghanandHarry interview on Oprah, we’ve been seeing a lot of digital blackface infractions with a few of Oprah’s reaction gifs and images going viral, but that doesn’t mean you should be using them,’ the non-profit explained.
The comments were limited, likely to weed out any racist messages, but thoughts on the post were incredibly mixed.
Some praised the organization for raising awareness for digital blackface, while others felt the inclusion of memes was going too far and actually a form of black erasure.
Educating: The Slow Factory Foundation recently raised awareness for digital blackface following Oprah’s bombshell interview
Argument: The organization explained that these memes perpetuate negative stereotypes about black people and are reminiscent of minstrel shows
Advice: The Slow Factory Foundation said white and non-black people shouldn’t be sharing the recent onslaught of Oprah memes just because they’re popular
Don’t do it: The nonprofit also recognized white or non-black people using black emoji as a form of digital blackface
Debate: The comments were limited, likely to weed out racist messages, but thoughts on the post were mixed
Thoughts: Some praised the organization for raising awareness for digital blackface, while others felt the inclusion of memes was going too far and actually a form of black erasure
Disagreement: There was a popular argument that equating memes and GIFs with digital blackface was doing more harm than good
‘Thanks for educating! Didn’t know about this,’ one person wrote, while another added: ‘What an interesting point that I’ve never even considered. I never been a fan of non Black people using Black emojis because it felt obviously wrong.
‘But sharing gifs and images is one that never even crossed my mind and the example given makes so much sense. Definitely going to evaluate what I post and when.’
While a number of commenters agreed that white and non-black people shouldn’t use black emoji, there was a popular argument that equating memes and GIFs with digital blackface was doing more harm than good.
Some said the conversation was actually taking the focus away from more important issues such as blackface and cultural appropriation.
‘Blackface is a violent and harmful representation of black people rooted in violence. Using a gif of Oprah is NOT blackface. That is such a gross misnomer and false equivalency,’ one person commented.
Reactions: Many of the Oprah memes show the media mogul deep in thought or looking shocked. In one popular image, she has her hands held up in front of her and her face turned
‘I…think we need to cover the basics before we start trying to coin terms like digital blackface,’ another Instagram user said. ‘Racial reconciliation and decolonizing is getting very oversaturated and overcomplicated.
‘Can we just try to heal from all the racial trauma that has impacted all people before we start trying to police how people use gifs and emoticons? I’m sure this can be a part [of] the process, but it’s really a leap.’
The idea of digital blackface has been around for years, but it gained mainstream traction when writer Lauren Michele Jackson used the term in her viral essay for Teen Vogue that was published in 2017.
Following Meghan and Harry’s tell-all with Oprah, a number of media outlets published stories highlighting the most hilarious memes to come out of the interview.
Tweets: The debate about whether sharing these comical memes is digital blackface has also reached Twitter,
Many of them show the media mogul deep in thought or looking shocked. In one popular image, she has her hands held up in front of her and her face turned.
The debate about whether sharing these comical memes is digital blackface has also reached Twitter, where some have been using the explosion of Oprah memes to educate others about digital blackface.
‘With all of the Oprah memes going around, this is just a reminder to school yourself on the concept of digital blackface before you embarrass yourself without meaning to, fellow white people,’ one person wrote.
‘I’m seeing a lot of Oprah memes and just wanted to share my recent learning about digital blackface,’ someone else added.
‘Was struggling to understand why I was so uncomfortable seeing white/non-Black ppl using Oprah’s (and other Black women’s) face in memes/GIFs until I read this,’ another tweeted, referring to Lydia Wang’s recent article for Refinery29, titled ‘This Oprah Photo Is Quickly Becoming The Latest Example Of Digital Blackface.’
One critic insisted that ‘the world has gone mad,’ asking: ‘So what do we call all the other faces, of all colours, that are used in meme’s and gif’s all over social media? [sic]’