Wikimedia Commons

When beloved celebrities of color die, there's a particular way that the media likes to remember them that lauds the deceased's legacy of somehow having "transcended" their race.

In the days following both Prince and Muhammad Ali's deaths, both men were remembered for the ways in which they "defied conventional notions of race" and made it so that their color and religion were nearly invisible. For the record, Prince was unabashedly proud of his blackness and Ali was widely known for the ways in which his blackness deeply informed his personal and social politics.

Advertisement

Still, though, for many celebrities of color (both living and dead) positive media coverage often goes hand in hand with the intentional downplaying or erasure of their race.

With that depressing fact in mind, Los Angeles Times editor Dexter Thomas built Un-Transcender, a handy little Chrome extension that will scan through any articles you bring up in the browser and replace the words "transcended race" with "was retroactively deemed safe by white people."

An example of what Un-Transcender does to an article about Whitney Houston, who was very, very black.
Dexter Thomas

The idea of transcending race, Thomas explains, is basically just a way to de-racialize people of color (black people in particular) in an effort to make them more palatable to white audiences.

Advertisement

"Incidentally, this also works wonders on coverage of Prince, Michael Jackson, Obama, and lots of other people. Thomas explained in a Medium post. "They don’t even have to be black."

Dexter Thomas

Thomas explained that while the extension was meant to shine a light on the ways in which the media turns a person's race into a warped back-handed compliment, it wasn't particularly effective when referring to white people.

"Note that this doesn’t work very well on coverage of white people because white people tend to not have to ‘transcend race,'" Thomas pointed out. "For whatever reason."