Is This Snapchat Filter Racist, or Just Dumb?

Is This Snapchat Filter Racist, or Just Dumb?

  • Messaging app giant Snapchat has gotten itself into hot water with accusations of racial insensitivity twice before. First there was the Bob Marley filter controversy, in which photos could be filtered to darken a user's skin and add dreadlocks. (Yep, Snapchat did literal blackface.) Then there was the skin lightening controversy, in which photos could be "beautified" by lightening the user's skin.

    Now, it's getting widely criticized for using what appears to be "yellowface," or harmful Asian stereotypes, in its latest filter. Is this Borderline Racism Strike Three, or is it all a dumb coincidence?

    For starters, let's take a look at the actual filter:

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  • The filter makes the user's cheeks wider, gives him or her buck teeth, and throws in slanted eye slits. In other words: the three most common stereotypes attached to caricatures of Asians. Snapchat claims that it's an "anime-inspired" filter. That might make sense for the eye slits — we all remember Brock from the Pokémon anime — but what anime features wide cheeks and buck teeth?

    People in comment sections all over the internet have been frothing at the opportunity to yell at others who are offended by the filter. This is just social justice warriors making mountains out of molehills, they claim. People are just looking for reasons to get offended.

    Two things: 1. Is Snapchat's yellowface filter pure, hoods-n-crosses racism? No. But that's not the only kind of racism. This is the oblivious, if-it's-not-offensive-to-me-how-can-it-be-offensive-to-anyone kind. We can debate on if the term "racism" applies only to the former kind and not the latter. Maybe "racial insensitivity" fits better. Either way, there's more to racial insensitivity than just committing hate crimes. There's also this: perpetuating hateful stereotypes, mocking an entire race of people for their (perceived) appearances, and co-opting those stereotypes for the purpose of point-and-laugh entertainment.

    2. This is absolutely a pattern of insensitivity. Snapchat has stepped in it re: race three times now. Once could be a misunderstanding, twice could be a mistake, but three times is, at least in my eyes, too much to completely ignore.

    What do you think? Is this Snapchat being racially insensitive, or is this just (another) dumb mistake? Let us know in the comments below or @WhatsTrending on Twitter!