The Danger of White People GIFing Black People
White people use GIFs of black people to express themselves and share their thoughts. However, the trend is dangerous on a real world level. It plays into the racist minstrel stereotype of Blackness by reducing Black people to a one dimensional character.
The trend of using black people in reaction GIFs is just the latest way that Black bodies are consumed by non-Black people. This is a type of blackface which goes back to the era of slavery when Jim Crow bore the stereotypical traits of enslaved African people. While the era of digital technology has brought about a return of the “black face”, it is more of a digital blackface.
The “reaction” GIF has become a popular tool for non-Black people to convey emotions. For example, the “ain’t nobody got time for that” GIF is used for a variety of everyday complaints. A Peggy Olson GIF is often read as a mic drop moment. The GIF can also be used to leave people wanting more.
GIFs can be made with a variety of apps, keyboards, and websites. But, what makes a GIF different from a normal image is its ability to convey a variety of emotions. These include the hilarious, the serious, and the absurd. This ability allows people to express themselves in ways that are not always possible with words.
The ability to express an emotion through a GIF can be extremely useful, but it also enables white people to reduce the complex nature of Blackness into a single story. In this case, the single story is about a black woman’s experience with the fire at her apartment building. This type of story is particularly problematic because non-Black people move away from stories about the pain and suffering of Black people more quickly than they do with stories about white women.
This tendency to create and share single stories has led to the overrepresentation of black people in GIFs. This is a phenomenon that’s both a cultural and a social problem. By flattened depictions of Black people, we aren’t gaining any deeper understanding of Black culture, or fostering a greater empathy for other races.
It’s no secret that GIFs are becoming more and more ubiquitous. A study from Giphy analyzed the ten most popular GIFs in 2021. Three of the ten were of a Black person. The other five were all White. This is a trend that is likely to continue. In fact, the company found that gifs of people of color were viewed more than twice as often as those of White people in the year to come.
While it’s not surprising that black people dominate GIF feeds, this doesn’t necessarily make the internet more inclusive or less racist. Instead, it’s a function of systemic inequality. Increasing the representation of minorities in media and video games can go a long way in increasing interracial empathy. The internet is a place where a single story can be distributed at a much faster rate.