Selfies are criticized as a symbol of millennial narcissism. But for some marginalized communities, selfies are tools for empowerment that enable people to represent themselves in a world that too easily erases them.
Transgender North Carolinians took selfies to take a stand against the state’s controversial anti-transgender bathroom law. Following last week’s tragic Orlando shooting, same-sex couples shared PDA selfies using the hashtag #TwoMenKissing and #TwoWomenKissing as a direct action against the homophobia connected to the attack at Pulse gay nightclub.
Selfies, Syreeta McFadden wrote for the Guardian last year, "are teaching us to see ourselves anew and across multiple situations. While the mainstream may not yet reflect a wide, true and constructed representation of people of color, we’re creating space for that existence in the cyber world. We’re cultivating a vernacular to understand our images beyond stilted paradigms."
On National Selfie Day, here are five selfie campaigns that people of color have used to tell their own stories:
On March 6, 2015, Tumblr users Matthew King-Yarde, Marissa Rei, and T’von Greene launched the first #BlackOutDay.
The inspiration behind the campaign, according to their Tumblr page, was "the lack of representation and celebration of everyday black people in mainstream spaces such as movies and television, and the need to create a positive space in which black people could feel welcomed and beautiful."
For 24 hours, Tumblr selfies of black people poured in, and the campaign eventually spilled over to both Twitter and Facebook. Since last March, the three curators have taken to organizing the hashtag event every three months.
In August 2014, after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, social media users created the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown to highlight a noticeable racial double standard that became apparent in mainstream media coverage of the case. Brown was portrayed using photos that made him look like a criminal, even though he was the one gunned down, and there were more neutral and positive photos of him available.
#IfTheyGunnedMeDown which photo would they use? pic.twitter.com/y3y8tFHtPN— Je Suis Déanté (@WhoISdeante) August 11, 2014
In contrast, Brown’s white peers — no matter their innocence — are more likely to be portrayed with humanity, even if the subject was proven guilty of a crime. In just one example of the effects of such a disparity, a 2015 study in Communication Research of racial representations of crime on television news and other programming in Los Angeles found that white people were overrepresented as victims of crimes compared to official numbers. In the sample, African Americans were accurately depicted as both perpetrators and victims — an anomaly that demanded further study. Latinos were accurately depicted as perpetrators but underrepresented as victims.
This past Father’s Day, people shared photos through the #BlackMaleReimagined hashtag to debunk stereotypes of black fatherhood.
My Dad @Cinemaniac625 is my heart. Thank you for always being a pillar of love in my life. #BlackMaleReimagined pic.twitter.com/Wt0LSDodFd— Janet Dickerson (@TheRealPRLady) June 19, 2016
One of the most common myths around black fathers is that they are absent from their children’s lives. However, as Vox’s German Lopez pointed out, the myth persists because it is based on misunderstandings of data:
New York Times columnist Charles Blow previously took on this myth. Blow started with the basis for much of the idea: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that showed 71.5 percent of black, non-Hispanic children in 2013 were born to unmarried women, compared with 29.3 percent of white, non-Hispanic children.
But as Josh Levs pointed out in his new book All In, 2.5 million of 4.2 million black fathers — or about 59.5 percent — live with their children. Levs's numbers suggest that it's not true, as the CDC figures suggests, that 71.5 percent of black dads are absent from their homes — but rather that many of them are simply unmarried.
Last August, black women used the hashtag #FlexinMyComplexion to celebrate darker-skinned black women based on a concept created by Brooklyn-based artist and activist Kameelah Rasheed to draw attention to the ways colorism impacts black people.
Colorism, a term coined by writer Alice Walker in her 1982 book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, refers to the different ways people experience racial prejudice based on the hue of their skin tone.
Can't believe I ever doubted the beauty of my brown skin. I love this hashtag and my melanin! #FlexinMyComplexion pic.twitter.com/e47IwHq8st— Maisha Z. Johnson (@mzjwords) August 14, 2015
At the end of last year’s Ramadan, Black Muslims used selfies to commemorate the end of the Muslim holy month, a period also known as Eid, while calling attention to the experience of being a minority within a minority: Muslim and black.
Eid Mubarak #BlackOutEid #BlackOut pic.twitter.com/u9fngQXaKZ— vimto mami (@lunarnomad) September 24, 2015
#BlackOutEid was inspired by both #BlackOutDay and #BlackMuslimRamadan.
Nearly 60 percent of American Muslims are immigrants. And despite Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim immigrants, the first Muslim Americans arrived to the colonies against their will as African slaves. These days, nearly one-third of all American Muslims are African Americans.
So while some people treat smartphones like mirrors, for communities who lack adequate representation in mainstream media, using a phone to create their own reflection in the world can be a powerful, radical act.