Snapchat is celebrating 4/20 with an ill-advised tribute to Bob Marley and blackface. In honor of both weed and bad decisions, the social media network is encouraging its users to add Marley’s skin tone, dreads, facial hair, and Rasta hat to their selfies via a Marley family-endorsed lens. While a spokesperson for Snapchat told Gizmodo that the filter is meant to give “people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music,” it’s also dramatically reductive, even for something endorsed by Marley’s estate.
While Marley’s family launched a marijuana brand under his name in November 2014, both his fans and detractors online are noting that Marley was more than just a pothead. He was a religious man, a musician, and an advocate for Jamaica’s poor and disenfranchised. As Esquire notes,
Marley’s entire legacy has been co-opted by white audiences for decades. Legend, the Greatest Hits album that you surely own, has sold more than 15 million copies to date. It was specifically cobbled together by Island Records, reportedly under the direct guidance of the label’s white founder Chris Blackwell to make Marley’s music palatable to the masses (read: whites). This meant forgoing protest songs like “Concrete Jungle” or “Burnin’ and Lootin’” in favor of easy jams like “Is This Love,” “Could You Be Loved” and, of course, “No Woman, No Cry.” Nobody wants to hear about starvation and poverty, just give ‘em the happy stuff. The “friendly reggae” stuff. Stuff white people like.
Marley certainly used marijuana as a sacrament, but he also happens to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, helping make reggae a cultural force. While the selfie lens isn’t quite the same as putting black paint on you face, it’s tantamount to putting on a Bob Marley mask to celebrate getting high, effectively reducing Marley’s impact to a stereotype.
As The Daily Dot surmises, the filter seems to indicate that Snapchat wanted to commemorate 4/20 without actually endorsing marijuana. It might have dodged that bullet—more like a bb, really—but, in turn, it stepped on a land mine.
Bob Marley was a pro-black messenger, voice for the poor & disadvantaged, a prolific political figure and @Snapchat reduced him to a stoner.
— Toni Macaroni (@tonimacncheese) April 20, 2016