The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in València this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on August 11, 2016

Dear Snapchat: You’re racist and I can no longer look the other way

Dear Snapchat: You’re racist and I can no longer look the other way
Nate Swanner
Story by

Nate Swanner

Former Reporter, TNW

TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If you need to get in touch, Twitter is your best bet.

It happened again. For the second time this year(!), Snapchat released a filter so ill-conceived and flat-out racist it caused outrage — and rightfully so.

The most recent filter, which some are calling ‘Yellowface,’ is so abhorrent to good taste and common sense I’m just giving up on Snapchat.

This is not a good look for anyone.
This is not a good look for anyone.

It’s either insensitive or flat-out racist

Let’s get something out of the way: I’m a white dude in his 30s. If you needed to slap a face on white privilege, my mug would suffice nicely (whether I like that idea or not).

I don’t exercise that privilege (I wouldn’t even know how, to be honest), but it occurs anyway. Snapchat is evidence of that.

Between the Bob Marley ‘blackface‘ and oh-my-fucking-god-no-way-how-did-Snapchat-not-learn ‘yellowface‘ filters, Snapchat has proven itself the epitome of white privilege.

At best, Snapchat is insensitive — at worst, it’s flat-out racist. As one user put it in a post on Medium, “Snapchat is the prime example of what happens when you don’t have enough people of color building a product.”

But let’s overlook that Snapchat is apparently a whole bunch of me running around the office for just a second. Who didn’t speak up and say ‘uh, so, this is kind of fucked up, bros’ in meetings about these products?

More to the point, why didn’t everyone say that?

I can wrap my head around how these things seem like clever ideas at first to a small group inside the company, but really — who green-lights this shit? Between blackface and yellowface, several historical events have taken place, so where were the old-white-guy-president filters for the fourth of July, hmm?


Snapchat, I am you

Here’s another tidbit about ‘ol Nate you may not have known: I think racially-charged humor is wonderful. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and each other, then what’s the point?

But I do not tolerate racism or racial insensitivity. When the line between what is a joke and what is hate can’t be distinguished immediately, everyone loses.

So Snapchat, I’m here to tell you — white dude to white dudes — you’re racist. That you shat two filters into the world that made Asians and black people feel less appreciated, respected and loved is abhorrent.

That you attempted to explain them away is possibly worse, and evident you don’t even understand your own product.

Let’s first address the Bob Marley filter: to assume that most people identify a humanitarian who did a ton of good in this world as a weed-smoking hero is not only racist, it’s pandering to the lowest rung of frat boy culture.

As for yellowface, the excuse it was inspired by anime is not only laughable nonsense, it shows you’re out of touch with your own product. Anime is fantasy, and can take liberties because it’s fucking cartoons — Snapchat is a real product used by real people in their real lives, and while they might think cat ears are cute, morphing them into sick stereotypes is not.


It’s over

I never jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon. Really, I never thought it was special — just different.

But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: Snapchat is different — in all the worst ways.

I casually engaged with Snapchat to see what the hype was about, and am glad I never invested much time in it. I don’t feel bad deleting it from my phone, and I encourage you to consider doing the same.

It’s over, Snapchat. I’ve got all the evidence I need that you’re looking out for number one, not a number of users.

Also tagged with