George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his throat for nine minutes and 29 seconds. The 46-year-old left behind five children, four siblings and a heartbroken community who lifted his image up as a symbol of American racial injustice. Floyd was resurrected after death, as the heart of a furious protest movement and a reminder of how little had changed after decades of police promises to do better.
A year and a half after he died, Floyd was resurrected again, but under far more problematic auspices. On December 9, 2021, a little NFT (non-fungible token) project dubbed “Floydies” launched, offering people a chance to spend cryptocurrency on images of a crudely pixelated George Floyd. The NFTs illustrate Floyd with bloodshot eyes and a litany of offensive and racist themes, depicting Floyd as a “buck broken” enslaved man with a chain collar, as Kyle Rittenhouse and as a literal ape, among many, many other examples.
Unbelievably, the Floydies NFT is marketed by its creators as a “a unique and progressive way to celebrate the monumental life of George Floyd,” even telling BuzzFeed News that the project is a “great service to the BIPOC community.”
It’s a trolling way to wave away the obviously racist elements embedded throughout the project, even beyond the portrayals of Floyd himself. While it’s unclear who the creators are, they have openly tweeted, for example, that buying a Floydie comes with “an ‘N-word’ pass,” writing in a statement that “Black people… are often not equipped to make such important decisions” on the matter. They’ve also been crowing about getting a “like” on Twitter from the account of the San Francisco Police Department’s Central Bureau, claiming that it could be the “first step of healing” between the Black community and police. (SFPD, meanwhile, has launched an internal investigation into who screwed up.)
So, to tally it up: This is an NFT project that appropriates the likeness of a man who was viciously murdered by police and became a folk hero for a social movement. The creators are grifting for crypto profits by selling racist caricatures of that same man, all with winking references to “progressivism” and the politics of Black culture. It’s been kicked off of the largest active NFT marketplace, OpenSea, but is doing just fine after relocating to the “free speech” NFT platform Scatter.Art.
The use of offensive language, “ironic” humor and redpill in-jokes straight out of 4chan aren’t just a problem for Floydies. This is an issue that seems embedded into the culture and marketplace of NFTs, and shows how virulent strains of toxicity can thrive on a decentralized “Web3” universe that runs on the fluid anonymity of the blockchain.
Consider “Meta Slave” project, which was marketed as being “inspired by Black Lives Matter and also in honor of George Floyd.” How did it honor Floyd, exactly? By selling docile, unblinking images of Black faces, manipulated by some creepy facial animator that evokes the “uncanny valley” sensation. “With this project, we want to show everyone that we will never forget the victims and suffering of our ancestors, we must remember history so that it does not happen again,” the project said on Twitter.
The project no longer exists on OpenSea after being reported for its racist undertones, but its creator, who goes by “Unipic” (or the defunct Twitter username @UniqueFractal), has simply pivoted to selling “Super Humans NFTs” that aren’t as racially motivated.
Over and over again, we see people trying to sell crypto products by leveraging race. Elsewhere, there’s an NFT project dubbed “Trayvon’s Hoodie” — an obvious reference to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman — that sells abstract iterations of a hoodie silhouette, with each NFT named after dead Black people. On the surface, it seems like a ham-fisted tribute to people killed by police, such as Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland. But the project is deeply generic and offers no rationale for appropriating Martin’s identity; there are no proceeds going to a social justice project and no connection to Martin’s family, exactly as with the Floydies NFT.
We can also consider the “BlackSchizo” project — “If you don’t buy this, you’re racist,” it claims in its OpenSea title. It goes on to declare that there are only “two races”: schizophrenics and non-schizophrenics, and offers bizarrely warped images of random Black people for sale. The creators claim on Twitter that they’re doing this in the name of representation and mental-health awareness, which only makes sense if you believe that mental-health awareness comes from warping Black people into demonic figures with zombie faces so you can profit off an NFT sale.
And one upcoming NFT, dubbed “Pigorilla,” claims that the project is explicitly in service of “body positivity” and “anti-cyberbullying” efforts, and that proceeds of sales will be given to “top foundations” working in those fields. Is there any transparency around what percentage of which transactions will be donated where? Of course not. Instead, Pigorilla is shilling a horribly tacky image of its animal caricature wearing a “BLM tribal face tattoo” and a thick gold chain, with “BLACK LIVES MATTER” stamped around it.
These projects are decidedly on the fringes of the NFT market, but projects in the mainstream continue to dabble in problematic expressions that clearly pull from misogynistic and racist themes for the purpose of edginess. There’s the “Meta Gold Digger Club” NFT, which is associated with the Bored Ape Yacht Club (itself riddled with alt-right red flags). The project’s creators proclaim that owning a “Gold Digger” lets you “breed with other notorious Apes”; elsewhere, it shills other vaguely offensive themes, both in the visual portrayal of the “Gold Diggers” and the narrative copy on its homepage: “…give birth to a Baby Ape and earn MGDC coin, enjoy your family life and be set for good.”
Axie Infinity, a popular blockchain interactive game, has sold an NFT discreetly labeled “Attack Negro.” Artist George Trosley and his “Jungle Freaks” NFT got hammered after observers unearthed Trosley’s history of penning heinously racist and offensive cartoons during his 20th-century career, including images of the KKK. An NFT influencer who worked for the marketplace Superrare had to resign after observers dug up a history of racist trolling, including using slurs. And even one of the biggest artists in the NFT game, “Beeple” (aka Mike Winkelmann), has garnered serious criticism for art that’s purposefully misogynistic and racist, including a crude drawing of an Asian man with the caption “a fat nerdy Chinese kid and his imaginary friends,” and a seemingly transphobic sketch of Hillary Clinton with a penis.
Again and again, we see there’s no real recourse for such action. It’s just part of an anonymized sea of grifters who recede and reappear after controversy, floating on the troll vibes of a community that’s disproportionately male. Trying to tackle this is like playing whac-a-mole with people who know that they’re tough to pin down, let alone discipline. I think of what Ben Davies wrote about Beeple in Artnet: “We’ve passed through a racial uprising and a reckoning with sexism, and the cultural project of the moment is… innovating new ways to worship decade-old, BroBible-level brain-farts?”
On paper, there’s nothing about NFTs that should be inherently offensive, and supporters will argue that it’s just a medium influenced by the culture that swirls around us. But it’s becoming far too easy to see how NFT creators promote crass, regressive ideas about race, gender, class and ownership, whether we’re talking about Meta Girlfriends or Floydies. Crypto is a counterculture as much as a meaningful currency, and it means that reactionaries are everywhere, trying to hustle to the moon by hawking whatever they think will sell to an insular, Extremely Online® cohort of largely young men.
The creators of Floydies are talking a big game for the future. Its site claims they’re building a “Floydieverse” for owners to hang out in, and there are dreams of buying billboards and adverts for Floydies in locations like George Floyd Square in Minneapolis or the Floyd statue in New Jersey. Paying for all of these efforts will be the sales of an unblinking, red-eyed Floyd, flattened into meaninglessness, forever disconnected from the truth of the past.