Blackface Filter faces tremendous backlash in social media

Racism deeply ingrained in Indian society


August 11, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Blackface Filter faces tremendous backlash in social media

“Booma Yee” is the latest filter that has gone viral on Instagram, with critics panning it and saying it reinforces toxic beauty standards and colourism (Photo: Instagram)

Blackface or “Booma Yee” is the latest filter that has gone viral on Instagram with numerous influencers adopting it and encouraging their followers to do the same. But critics say the filter reinforces racism and demand curbs on it.

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This filter changes the complexion of a creator. In the beginning, it shows the creator with a dark or grey complexion, often looking very grim and gesticulating in anger over her colour. She often tries to brush her skin as if removing dirt, but when nothing works, she turns sad. After a few seconds, the filter changes and the creator gets back her normal skin colour tone and smiles once the transition is complete. More than hundreds of reels’ creators used it to make viral videos, which gained more than millions views and likes.

While the filter may have gone viral, it has also led many critics to stand up and oppose the filter, saying it was bizarre that a diverse social media platform allows a filter that promotes racism and also lowers the self-esteem of people with darker skin tones. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a large number of users of this filter hail from India, where skin tone remains one of the defining elements of someone’s personality.

“I also tried this filter, but it was not good at all, so I deleted that video. There are many filters in Instagram which show us more beautiful and pretty with fair colour tone, but I think that this filter promotes racism,” says Nirmala, 17-year-old girl in New Delhi, she is obsessed with creating reels on the social media platform.

“The main reason why everyone in India wants to change their skin tone is because sadly, discrimination on the basis of our skin tone is still widely prevalent in our society and of course one can see it on the social media platforms all the time,” Sandhya, who lives in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and is also a reel creator, tells Media India Group.

The popularity of the filter and the way the creators behave while using it, acting sad and gloomy when dark but thrilled with fairer skin tones goes to reinforce the belief that despite several campaigns against colour-based discrimination, the evil remains widespread in the Indian society, which starts with numerous skin-care products that promise a fairer skin and a far superior life.

“Applying numerous skin care creams and such products is common amongst teenagers and I also used a lot of creams. I think in our society, the definition of beautiful is still linked with the shade or tone of the colour, which forces many teenagers to use these products in order to become popular,” says Nirmala.

On social media, this popularity matters even more due to the widespread reach that the platforms offer and since many influencers have made a successful career from their popularity on the social media. “We can see that people with fair colour tone gain more likes, while those with darker skins generally lag behind and this makes them feel that they are not good looking,” adds Nirmala.

Even though the filter has been made for use on Instagram, the teenagers say the problem lies much more with the society and not really with the tech firm as racism and colour-bias is ingrained in the Indian mindset.

“If we see all the advertisements related to glowing skin or skin bleaching products, they first show the person in a darker skin tone and then after applying the products they become more beautiful and confident,” says Sandhya.

Fair & Lovely, launched in 1975, is India’s best known fairness brand and skin-lightening cream. This skin-lightening cream has been criticised for promoting negative tag around the dark skin tones, Fair & Lovely. But it was only a few years ago, after many criticised the choice of name on social media and even some celebrities took a stand against it, Unilever renamed it as Glow & Lovely.

For most skin-whitening creams, leading cinema actors promote the brands, wielding tremendous influence over the audience, mainly adolescents who try to imitate actors and use many skin-whitening products, even though some of the products contain toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Even though the Advertising Standards Council of India has tried to ban advertisements promoting ‘fair skin’, but the products and the advertisements continue to flood the markets.

Instagram is not the first social media platform to develop such a filter. Already back in 2017, Instagram’s parent, Facebook, had launched a similar filter on FaceApp that allowed users to look like belonging to different races and also allowed them to edit their image to get different skin tones. However, it faced tremendous criticism around the world and FaceApp was forced to pull down the filter within hours of its launch.

Though an app or a filter can be easily taken down, removing the bias that is deeply ingrained in the Indian society is a far tougher ask.

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