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Feeling a little ethically weird about something.


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MentosCubing

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So the other day I got a request from a man to cut out a photo of him and put it onto a game screenshot for a YouTube thumbnail. Part of his hand was cut off by the edge of the frame, and because of how he described his ideal mental image of the final result, that part would have to be made visible. No problem, I'll find another image of a hand in a similar position and extend it, right?
But then I couldn't find any similar images. His hand was in quite a specific position, and it was hard to find keywords that matched it and even harder to find suitable copyright-safe images. So I decided that I would simply take a photo of my own hand and use that. The result looked convincing, so I sent it to him.
But here's the thing that occurred to me later. This man is black. I am white.
As many of you already know, a practice called "blackface" was used in theatre and film back when studios would not hire black actors. They would take a white actor and paint their skin to be much darker. This white actor would then proceed to play the role of a stereotypical, racist image of black culture. For that reason, participating in blackface today is considered extremely insensitive and discriminatory towards the black community, especially in the United States (where both the requester and I live).
When I took a photo of my white hand and matched it to his black skin tone to then pass it off as real, was I participating in a digital form of blackface?
 
When I took a photo of my white hand and matched it to his black skin tone to then pass it off as real, was I participating in a digital form of blackface?

In my opinion, you did absolutely nothing wrong. Not even a tiny molecule of "digital blackface" occurred here. Racism is real, ethnic stereotyping is real, cultural insensitivity is real, and structural barriers that discriminate against black people are real. But editing your hand onto a photo—as an expedient quick-fix—is none of these things. I can't imagine that even the wokest of the woke could argue that what you did somehow diminishes this man's dignity or calls into question his authenticity. To me, this isn't even a gray area. There has to be room for common sense.
 
That's a very reasonable assessment, and now I feel like posting this in the first place is low-key making me look like a David Brent :p
Thanks for your perspective. I still feel weird about having done it, so I probably won't be rushing back to the technique anytime soon, but I'm no longer feeling ashamed to have had the idea.
 
You can drive yourself crazy with this stuff. One time on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, Eddie Murphy did a skit where he went undercover as a white guy. He was made up in whiteface with a Burberry trench coat and he was riding a New York City bus. All the passengers were depressed and miserable, but at a certain point on the route the last black person finally got off the bus (except for Eddie). As soon as the bus was whites only, suddenly there were strolling musicians and beautiful girls with champagne and trays of hors d'oeuvres. The skit was genius, but I doubt it could get made today.
 
Yes blackface is highly offensive and no I don't think there is an issue with what you have done. For background a couple links on definition of blackface and wikipedia article about the most common place it was used. Thanks for being sensitive about this topic.
John Wheeler

Blackface Definition

Minstrel Show Article
 
Nothing that you did sinks anywhere near to the depths of Al Jolson in blackface. What if you found a hand online, instead of yours, that you color adjusted to fit the image? What if it was too light or too dark and you had to adjust it. Would you feel differently? Rather than your own body part, it's just an object. With yours, it's personal.
I don't believe this is a racial question but rather the ethics of doing what we do. Photoshop is a program that manipulates digital images. There are some things requested here that flirt with the lines of both personal and societal ethics. But we fill the request without thinking too deeply because that's what we do here and that's what the software does.
This isn't a question of color but rather a question of permission. Did the client know what you had to do to fill their request and then did the client accept it?
Bottom line - you didn't manipulate identity. You did what you had to do to get the job done. Sailing beyond that, the water gets pretty murky...
 
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