Snapchat Filters: the Latest in…Racism?

Rastafarian+culture+and+political+activism+are+NOT+equivalent+to+%22I%27m+a+cartoon+dog.%22

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Rastafarian culture and political activism are NOT equivalent to "I'm a cartoon dog."

Tea Smith, Staff Reporter

On April 20th Snapchat introduced a new special filter to commemorate 4/20. The filter makes Snapchat chat users look like Bob Marley, complete with fake dreadlocks and brown skin. The app basically created digital blackface to commemorate an unofficial holiday about marijuana. The filter reportedly didn’t work well on actual black faces.

Snapchat is under fire for the unintentionally racially insensitive filter. Many Snapchat users expressing their distaste for the filter via Twitter, saying that the filter promotes blackface.

The original intention of the filter was to honor the late Bob Marley, although it wasn’t even the singers birthday. The idea was brought up by Bob Marley’s estate, someone close to the company said.

When asked about the filter, a spokesman at Snapchat had this to say, “The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.” (Wired)

The public uproar over the Snapchat filter brought attention back to complaints that the tech industry is largely comprised of white males which makes them susceptible to racially insensitive mistakes like this one.

The filter in and of itself is problematic, but the fact that it wasn’t the singers birthday and just an unofficial holiday that celebrates marijuana and it’s recreational use reduces Marley’s legacy to just smoking weed. The singer didn’t even use marijuana recreationally, he used it as part of his Rastafarian religious practice.

A spokesman at Snapchat also had this to say, “Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements. The lens gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music.”

Clearly the intention of the filter was not meant to be racially insensitive but that is the way it was seen by the millions of Snapchat users. Hope if the social media app plans to honor the legacy of any other late black icons they choose a different way to go about it, that doesn’t involve accidental digital blackface.

It does seem clear that anyone who really believes in the things Marley stood for (racial justice, equality, etc.) would probably not be cool with categorizing them the same as “OK, Snapchat, turn me into a cartoon dog.”