Katrin Köppert

De-Facing Affect: On Digital Blackface


Using the phenomenon of the "Oprah Meme" as an example, this input explores the violent politics of affect in memes against the backdrop of the history of the racialization of emotion. The "Oprah Meme" is a pars pro toto for what, since Laureen Michele Jackson first attempted to conceptualize it in Teen Vogue in 2017, can be described as Digital Blackface. This refers to representations of Black facial expressions that - collaged with text or animated in the case of gifs - are used by white people to express an emotion or make a joke. Corresponding memes encounter a present in which white feelings, white tears, and white fragility (Diangelo 2020) are effective as "structures of domination" (Yao 2021: 2). In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, these structures have been problematized. Therefore, it will be necessary to ask what an anti-racist meme ethic of affect might be and to what extent it can be brought to bear in the context of the algorithmization of memes. That is, after addressing Digital Blackface as part of a conjuncture of white people's affective navigation in the vortex of their insecurities, I will arrive at the question of how it might be possible for affects or affective processes to be articulated not only as modes of racialization, but to be seen as either conditions of possibility for Black lives, or anti-racist resistance (Palmer 2017). I will be particularly interested in forms of disarticulation of the face and de-facing. Following Xine Yao (2021) the attempt is to apply her proposal of "disaffection" to disarticulations of digital image cultures which are - speaking with José Esteban Muñoz' approach of disidentification - working on, with and against Digital Blackface in memes.




Katrin Köppert is Junior Professor of Art History/Popular Cultures at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig, currently Associate Professor of Transformations of Audiovisual Media with a special focus on Gender/Queer Theory at the Ruhr University Bochum. Main research interests are Queer Media Theory, Queer Art and/of AI, Gender, Race and Photography as well as Post-/Decolonial (Media-)Theories (of the Anthropocene in/and of Digital Culture).