In honor of National Weed Day, Snapchat launched a Bob Marley filter that superimposes the late reggae icon's trademark dreads and beanie — and a noticeably dark skin tone — over users' faces.
Some folks on Snapchat and Twitter were, to say the least, not happy about it, arguing that the filter evokes blackface.
@larakiara snapchat have a Bob Marley filter which is essentially 'digital blackface'. People not keen pic.twitter.com/ypzM4sUZg2— Ant Meads (@austerityrecs) April 20, 2016
Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter looks even more racist on a picture Bob Marley pic.twitter.com/1nSw41rZY3— Jason Lederman (@JasonOnTheAir) April 20, 2016
Snapchat issued a statement to the Guardian about the filter:
The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.
But the effort to honor Marley is falling flat with users who say the filter has little to do with Marley's legacy.
The result of the digital darkening of white users' skin tones is reminiscent of blackface, a practice originating in the early 19th century where people performed racist caricatures of black people using greasepaint.
But people are angry about the filter not just because it darkens skin — they're also saying it reduces Marley to simply a weed icon when, in reality, his relationship to marijuana was much more complicated than a photo-editing trick can convey.
In addition to bringing international attention to Jamaican reggae and being a noted political activist, Marley was also well known as a Rastafarian. While his Rastafarianism is being reduced to just a love for weed, the plant fits into his broader spiritual practice.
Bob Marley was pro-weed because he was a Rastafarian
One of the primary issues with Snapchat's Marley filter launching on 4/20 is that it doesn't seem to be tied to anything about Marley except the fact that he happened to be pro-cannabis.
Can @Snapchat explain to me why there's a Bob Marley filter on 4/20? You realize he did more than smoke weed, right? pic.twitter.com/xPCOU5uQko— Jack Qu'emi (@jackquemi) April 20, 2016
But there's a reason for his pro-weed stance: He was a Rastafarian.
Rastafarianism is an Afrocentric spiritual practice created in Jamaica in 1930 that focuses on the repatriation of African-descended people back to Africa, particularly Ethiopia, to rectify the histories of colonization and slavery that displaced them.
The practice draws heavily from stories of the Jewish exodus in the Old Testament.
But even though they draw from the Bible, Rastafarianism is a critique of Christianity, a religion that was used as a tool to legitimize slavery in the Western world, including in countries like Jamaica.
One of the major goals of the practice is to live naturally. This includes letting one's hair grow out into dreadlocks, eating a vegetarian diet, and also smoking marijuana.
In this case, weed isn't consumed for recreation but for spiritual purposes. Because marijuana is thought to have grown out of King Solomon's grave, a figure known for wisdom, the plant is seen as a natural means for spiritual rejuvenation.