The joys of memes are many, and so are their uses. But it didn’t occur to me until recently that at least some memes could be used as implicit bias tests. In fact, this meme shared repeatedly over the past couple days seems better than any implicit bias test I’ve taken.
The meme shows an image of what looks like a BlackLivesMatter protest. The people pictured are holding signs and riding in a car that’s been decorated with slogans associated with the protest. Based on the positions of the people on the outside of the car, it’s probably moving very slowly. It looks like they’re surrounded by smoke or fog.
The written critique isn’t the problem here. There really were people who were protesting recently who destroyed the property of businesses that were actually friendly to their cause. It wasn’t a majority or a plurality, as far as I can tell, but it’s fair to critique that behavior.
The problem is that this picture doesn’t show that kind of behavior. None of them are throwing rocks, or attacking anyone, or being even remotely threatening to anyone. It’s possible that they did do something like that prior to this moment or after this moment, but there’s no evidence of that based on the picture of them protesting peacefully.
So why did the creator of the meme choose that image when there was imagery of actual rock-throwing property destruction available? Well, it might be that the creator of the meme genuinely believes that the BlackLivesMatter movement is destroying America. It might be that the image captures what the meme creator sees as whiny Millenial protestors.
It might be that the creator of the meme also has an implicit bias, that he or she sees young black folks protesting as destroying America regardless of context or facts. That seems very likely, and the creator of the meme would be well-served to consider that idea. But what does it mean when someone shares the meme?
It’s no secret that people don’t share memes to communicate nuanced perspectives or make effective evidence-based arguments. They may well think it makes a good point within limits, though, or that it’s just funny.
It’s probable that those who shared the meme didn’t think through what they were trying to communicate. And that they weren’t intending to communicate that black folks protesting peacefully are destroying America. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this meme communicates.
The meme associates a picture of peaceful black protestors with actually destroying America, even when there’s no indication that they’re destroying anything. If associating those words with that image isn’t sending the message you want to send, then not sharing it seems like a good idea.
When we share memes, we’re communicating with people. No less so than when we send professional or personal emails, or when we call a family member, or when we hug a friend who’s sad.
Whether by meme or by hug, it’s worth taking the time to think about what it is we intend to communicate and whether or not we are communicating what we intended. I find that I make fewer mistakes that way.
P.S. It’s also worth thinking about why we might associate peaceful black protestors with the destruction of America, or at the very least why it didn’t occur to some of us that there was a problem with that association.