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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Social Media Accessibility & Inclusivity

What is Digital Blackface?

A term coined by Joshua Lumpkin Green in his 2006 Master's Thesis - Digital Blackface: The Repackaging of the Black Masculine Image - "digital Blackface" refers to the way which technology allows non-Black people to "try out" Black identities online. Digital Blackface can range from non-Black people creating fake twitter accounts posing as Black (often posting anti-Black messages, or defending anti-Black celebrities) to non-Black people excessively using reaction GIFs featuring Black people.

The minute and a half video below further explains the term and its historical origins. Content Warning: The video contains historical footage of Blackface minstrel shows.

Avoiding Digital Blackface

Be mindful of the ways different races are represented in the images and gifs you choose to use on social media. Are Black people shown as students and researchers, or do you only use them for funny reaction gifs? Does your twitter use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) even though none the staff in charge of social media are Black? Those would be considered instances of digital Blackface.

The easiest way to avoid digital Blackface is to learn more about it and make sure that Black people are widely represented in a variety of roles in your social media posts. It's not about not showing Black images, it's about being mindful of the way Black people (and all marginalized people for that matter) are represented by your organization and ensuring that you are not furthering harmful, stereotypical representations of any group of people.

Learn More

Learn more about what digital blackface is, how to spot it, and how to avoid it online.