Since its inception in late 2011, Snapchat has arguably become one of the most popular social media applications out there, especially for the younger generation. Unfortunately, it has recently cemented its status of possibly one of the most racist social media applications too.
Snapchat most recently came under fire for its implementation of a filter displaying what can most accurately be described as blatant yellow face. The filter overlaid the user’s face, giving the user slanted lines for eyes, reddened faces and cartoonish large buck teeth. These features are the hallmarks of classic yellow face.
Snapchat tried to explain the filter as an artist’s interpretation of an “anime-inspired” filter. It’s a weak response however, as anime characters are usually displayed with larger-than-normal eyes and relatively small mouths.
Nonetheless, Snapchat ultimately apologized for the filter and vowed it would never go into circulation again. Perhaps Snapchat could learn from their mistake…if they hadn’t already made a mistake prior to this event to learn from already.
Earlier this year, on what is colloquially referred to as “4/20,” Snapchat released a Bob Marley filter, featuring a flag, a beanie styled after the ones Marley famously wore…along with dreadlocks and a filter that made the user’s face brown. Anybody familiar with the terms “blackface” or “cultural appropriation” should already see the issue here.
When a white person darkens their skin to create a caricature of a race, they spit in the face in the people who deal with both institutionalized and blatant racism on a day-to-day basis. The filter also further perpetuated the idea that smoking marijuana was Marley’s most famous achievement, when in fact he was an immensely talented musician and still remains an icon to many even today. It’s revolting that we overlook a black man’s achievements and turn his legacy into nothing more than a racist joke in an app.
While Snapchat has been quick to remove blatantly racist filters such as the yellow face filter and the Bob Marley filter, the app still perpetuates a much grander problem in terms of race. In an article for Complex, author Vrinda Jagota pointed out that many of Snapchats filters directed towards beautification rather than humor tend to favor white and western ideals of beauty.
For example, the ever popular flower crown filter actually lightens the user’s skin. This is egregiously problematic, especially considering the reality that many people in certain areas of Asia face an immense pressure to use skin lightening products and bleaches in order to make themselves seem as what their society views as more attractive. This isn’t the only filter.
After the popularity of the flower crown filter, Snapchat introduced a new filter which featured a glowing crown of butterflies, but also significantly narrowed features of the face including the nose. Narrow noses are a standard of beauty that specifically stem from white ideals of beauty.
The narrowed nose and white skin are both featured in what is commonly referred to as Snapchat’s “pretty” filter. Those ideals combined with the name of the filter on their own should be issue enough.
Racist once…shame on you. Racist twice? Someone needs to fire a few board members and perhaps do some sensitivity training. Racist three times? It would be easy to assume that Snapchat would be regarded by the masses under great scrutiny, but the real kicker to the whole racist Snapchat fiasco is that nobody is really paying any attention to it.
There have been a few stories reported here and there about Snapchat’s repeated racism from niche online news sites, but the mainstream media remains exceptionally silent…and exceptionally complacent. It’s a common issue across the social structure of the U.S.: if a race issue isn’t deemed headline-worthy enough to garner plenty of clicks on a news site or enough views on the nightly news, it gets swept under the rug.
It’s easy enough for white people to look at something for a second and say “Oh, that’s terrible,” and move on with their lives. I cannot speak on behalf of any people of color, but I would imagine that any amount of racism experienced must be another drop in the perhaps already full bucket of institutionalized racism experienced in the U.S.
So what can be done? If all it takes for Snapchat to recover from every racist incident is to apologize and pull a filter from the app, then no-body is ever going to truly learn from these mistakes.
Nobody needs to use or support Snapchat. Instagram’s latest update includes a new story mode, which allows users to upload temporary pictures for all of their followers to view in a similar vein to Snapchat. Even without that, perhaps the inconvenience of not being able to send disappearing images to each other is worth not being part of the complacency towards racism that still proliferates society today.