‘Dear @Snapchat, thanks for the overly-racist new filter…when can we expect Blackface?’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Some may consider it stellar, but to others, a new Snapchat filter might seem a bit off-color.
A recent filter by the picture-sharing social media platform appeared to darken everything but the eyes and lips of the user, evoking a common trope from the racist minstrelsy of yore.
It seems the filter was likely intended to be a face in the nighttime sky, but especially when paired with other questionable add-ons celebrating Black History Month, it evoked a decidedly different image.
The episode comes at a time of increased sensitivity over the use of blackface due to a series of scandals earlier this month involving three top Virginia public officials.
Gov. Ralph Northam has continued to ride out his term, defying near universal calls for resignation, after a photo from a page dedicated to him in an old medical school yearbook showed an individual wearing blackface and another in KKK robes.
Following Northam’s scandal and unrelated rape accusations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is black, the third in line for succession, state Attorney General Mark Herring also acknowledged wearing blackface while a student at the University of Virginia.
However, the media’s effort to create a “dialogue” about blackface and raise awareness also drew backlash for what appeared to be sugarcoating Northam’s “clearly racist” use of it (in the governor’s own words) with more innocuous instances such as dressing up like admired musical performers.
The emphasis on its ubiquity also seemed to be an attempt to spare the governor from facing serious consequences.
While Northam has not been held accountable to date, some leftist advocacy groups and causes already have used the scandal as leverage to make extreme demands for him to support their political agenda.
The recent episode would not mark the first time Snapchat has generated controversy with its racially-charged filters. At least twice in 2016 the company drew flak on social media and elsewhere.
On April 20—a day associated with marijuana culture among pot advocates—it offered a filter that allowed users to transpose Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley‘s face onto their own.
The Bob Marley snapchat thing is blackface in 2016 effectively. Digital disrespect
— Elijah (@Eli1ah) April 20, 2016
I get that @Snapchat probably want to capitalise on 4/20 without DIRECTLY referencing it; but their answer is a blackface Bob Marley filter?
— Liam Dryden (@LiamDrydenEtc) April 20, 2016
Four months later, it launched a filter that some critics said too closely resembled “yellowface” stereotypes.
— Brian (@bkisnah) August 9, 2016