Black Women Gifs and Non Black Women Usage of Said Gifs

In the past, I’ve written my thoughts about the American society’s reaction to Black women’s emotions. To simply put, Black women’s emotions are very often stereotyped as angry, aggressive, unfriendly, and loud. Anni Ferguson, for the Guardian, says that it is likely that societal conditions such as the stereotypical labels placed on black women are inducing poor mental health in Black Women — a group that’s reportedly at an increased risk of having poor mental health according to Marcel Vige, head of equality movement at Mind.

Pop culture and the media have played a part in furthering this stereotype. The relationship between pop culture and black women hasn’t been a friendly one. From issues like: refusal to hire/support talented black women to underrepresentation to racist portrayals to sexist portrayals, we see a trend that reflects that the thought process when it comes to hiring black women creatives or representing black women in the media is flawed. History shows that black women and the media aren’t friends.

It will be easy to say that it is simply mainstream (white) media that paints black women in lights that are too one-dimensional and unimpressive. But the truth is even seemingly black shows (I.e shows that are made to cater to black audiences that may or may not necessarily be made by other black people) contribute to this one-dimensional image. The image is too often one that reflects us as either “strong”, successful emotional punch-bags that oft times become boring sidekicks (to white women), or loud, “ghetto”, having no sense of decorum individuals. For many of us black women, these representations are tired because just like women of other races black women have a range of emotions and varying persona that can be better explored and reflected by the media.

How do all these relate to today’s meme/gif culture? Social media has made partaking in culture a much livelier experience. We have come a long way from the MySpace days. One thing of particular interest that is now widely used and that makes experiences on social media livelier is the introduction of Gif and memes. There are millions of memes on the internet that one can use to express how they are feeling without necessarily saying much. These gifs/memes range from immortal diva Carrie Bradshaw to no-nonsense Nene Leakes. These gifs are “loops” of iconic scenes or reactions or expressions.

Majority of these gifs are culled from tv shows, music videos and movies. If we say that the media doesn’t represent Black women diversely enough then we can see how there’s a possibly high probability that gifs that involve black women aren’t very diverse in the emotions they portray. Anyone can make gifs (there is no boss controlling the productions of gifs) but if these gifs, or at least ones that are likely to garner much use on the internet, are pulled from such limited pools of resource then a problem arises.

Due to the way gifs are set up, a Beyoncé Gif is simply a Beyoncé Gif. It says little to nothing until it is used to respond to a particular situation. On black twitter, these gifs are cultural for us. Say what you want to but the way the American society is set up, there is not a lot that is apolitical. Gifs that show, in that minute moment, very “black” reactions to occurrences are ones we feel a sense of community with. There appears to be an even larger sense of communal acceptance and joy when these gifs are from Black media. Very often, on Black twitter, you would see a Nene gif or New York (the reality star) or Beyoncé or Rihanna gif response to a viral tweet.

However, on certain occasions, I have come across viral tweets from non black people which elicit responses like those that one regularly sees on Black Twitter. Opening up the response thread, I begin to see gifs particularly ones involving Nene and New York being used by non black women to reflect sass or aggression and this is where I have a problem. Nene and New York are iconic black reality tv stars. They are extra, if you may. Considering the history of how black women aggression, frustration and anger is ridiculed, the ways in which these Black Women gifs are used feel like exploitation. Especially, if you consider the fact that these shows that these women have their background in are shows that majority of the non black women who use their gifs as reactions will turn their nose up at. And yes, you don’t have to understand the cultural history behind every gif you use but as I mentioned before the way the American society is set up, it is hard for your “innocent” actions to not have a trickle down effect on people particularly minorities. Understanding and acknowledging societal’s treatment of Black women is necessary in understanding how something seemingly so meaningless as Meme and Gif culture involving black women could be affecting black women.

Speaking personally, I feel mocked whenever I see a non black person use black Women gifs particularly ones that express emotions in ways that have been boxed, mocked and ridiculed, largely due to the fact that these emotions are coming from black women, for years.

Some further readings: