This article is the first in a larger series that focuses on
diversity and equity in marketing, as we are committed to
amplifying the voices of Black and racially diverse authors. Follow
along and check back for
other posts in this series.
This post is authored by Amma Marfo, a writer, speaker, and
digital marketer based in Boston, MA.
As the United States continues to painfully and publicly reckon
with its racist origins, youâ€™ll likely see a number of Martin
Luther King, Jr. or James Baldwin quotes circling. But my writings
today are best summarized by a quote from Marian Wright Edelman:
â€œYou canâ€™t be what you canâ€™t see.â€ Viola Davis invoked its
sentiments in 2015, when sheâ€”only five years agoâ€”became the
first Black woman to win an Emmy Award for Leading Actress in a
Drama. As she accepted the award, she said, â€œYou cannot win an
Emmy for roles that are simply not there.â€
The piece below is an individual reflection I shared with my
personal email list, but its reflection questions and calls for
visible representation are important for any sort of communication.
What does it look like to be seen, and understood, and included in
your organization? Can those to whom you write see themselves as
part of your world? And how are you working to make it soâ€”not
just in optics, but in organizational composition, governance, and
This may seem like a lot of weight to place on a looping image.
And in some ways, it is. So diffuse that weight. Donâ€™t leave it
to images to show your commitment to equity and justice. Show it in
your hiring. Show it in your promotions and leadership structure.
Show it in your work every single day. Let the images you use in
your communications be but the entry point of your dedication to
equitable, just work.
A recent history of GIFâ€™s evolution
Yes, the pronunciation debate rages on. Iâ€™m not here to
correct you on it, I promise.
I remember, in my sophomore year computer science class,
learning how to make animated GIFs. The technology (in 2005) was
less sophisticated, it was used FAR less, and I was only partially
paying attention because it was a Wednesday night class and I had
vowed loudly to drop it the first time the professor ran long
enough that I missed Lost. (He never did, so I didnâ€™t have
But in recent years, Iâ€™ve learned to have fun with GIFs,
playing with them as a form of expression, a supplement to stories
or jokes Iâ€™ve wanted to tell, and to share emotions that Iâ€”even
as a writerâ€”couldnâ€™t always pin down with words.
At some point, the effort felt incomplete. And that realization
came in tandem with several other realizations that I shared in
piece for Femsplain, â€œThe Wake Up Call.â€ The realization,
as with many others during that time in my life, was one of
representation. When I shared a GIF, it was indicative of what I
was feeling, or wanted to sayâ€¦but it was hard to find people that
shared that emotion or sentiment that looked like me. Actually,
Iâ€™ll own that the previous statement is incomplete. It was hard
to do, and I had never considered the implications of
From â€œThe Wake Up Callâ€:
My reset is vocal and it is visible. It shows when I seek to
elevate the voices of colleagues and leaders in my field of higher
education who others might not see. It shows when I help lift black
students to their highest potential because I know few others are
looking out for them. It shows in small ways, like accenting pithy
tweets with GIFs featuring Black faces (which are too hard to find,
by the wayâ€Šâ€”â€Šwhoâ€™s working on that?); and it shows in big
ways, like forgoing my former â€œTV Christmasâ€â€Šâ€”â€Šthe
I couldnâ€™t see myself in it anymore.
Iâ€™m so thankful that conversations are expanding to recognize
that being able to see yourself in a piece of artâ€”a book, a film,
a TV showâ€”is a right that is extended to far too few people. And
the result? When I wanted to express an emotion through a GIF, I
was using imagery that featured white males, sometimes white
When anyone who deviates from these highly available norms can
see themselves in a narrative, in the world, it matters. It matters
when Luke Cage allows millions of comic book enthusiasts to see
themselves as something other than a sidekick,
as the New York Times would apparently rather relegate them. It
matters when most actors in high profile roles with disabilities
are played by those withoutâ€”save
an exception on this seasonâ€™s Speechless. It matters when
celebrated creators like Tim Burton
shirk their ability to create these worlds, leading to
responses like this
beautiful and heartbreaking thread from one â€œblerd.â€ And it
matters because, in the absence of proper representation,
hurtful and offensive stereotypes can persist unchecked.
My decision to change the way I â€œGIFâ€ (thatâ€™s a verb
there) was part of a larger reset, but itâ€™s something I pay far
more attention to than most people might think. And luckily, I have
an answer to the â€œwhoâ€™s working on that?â€ in Jasmyn Lawson (formerly of
GIPHY and now with Netflix), who is very open about the work
sheâ€™s had to do at GIPHY to make diverse GIFs available for those
who shared my concerns. Her efforts, paired with ones like
Jesse Williamsâ€™ Ebroji and
Kevin Hartâ€™s Kevmoji has literally placed a new face on
digital expression, and itâ€™s one Iâ€™d love to see more of. But
in addition to showing others that there are options, thereâ€™s
another deeply personal reason that the seeds of change in GIFing
matters to me.
My friend Matthew opens most of his standup bits by disarming the
audience about how they perceive him when he hits the stage.
With descriptors like â€œâ€˜80s movies have taught you not to trust
people with my hair and bone structureâ€ and â€œincorrectly
assumed to be a lacrosse player,â€ he calls out the idea that
people who look like him are usually labeled the villain. To be
quite clear, heâ€™s not; Matthew is lovely and brilliant and hit
the genetic/good human lottery in an embarrassing number of ways.
But he looks it. So he closes that portion of his set by saying
â€œI want you to know that I know.â€
And to me, choosing to pick GIFs that look like me does that. A
big part of the wake-up call that I wrote about earlier this year
was about challenging my understanding that I push what many expect
of â€œpeople who look like me.â€ In ways small and large, I defy
expectationsâ€”which is heartbreaking if I think about it for too
long. But these small but consistent reminders that Iâ€™m as much
an Issa Dee as I am a Liz Lemon, as much an Oprah as I am an Ellen,
and a Retta more than anything else, remind those around me that
Iâ€™m not trying to â€œtranscendâ€ or â€œdefyâ€ anything.
This is who I am, this is how I see myself, and this is how
I want you to see me.
So the challenge that I issue to you this week isnâ€™t as active
as usual, but nevertheless: Look around you. Look at the images you
see. Whoâ€™s elevated? Whoâ€™s relegated to second- or third-class
status? How do you know? And what can you do to even the playing
field, from the picking of a GIF to the elevating of a voice?
Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and digital marketer based in
Boston, MA. The tagline under which she unites her work: â€œusing
stories to create community.â€ She is also the author of three
Amma is a dynamic and sought-after speaker on topics such as
leadership, group dynamics, creativity, and values-based
organizational change. She speaks on college and university
campuses across the country, at regional and national conferences,
and has partnered with organizations like HubSpot, Wayfair, Pfizer,
Learn more about Amma on her
Visit this page to see more in the series, or check back in a
week for our next guest post.
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Source: FS – Email Marketing Blogs!
The Very Real Notion of Act-GIF-ism