There must be a class somewhere for beginning meme-makers called “How to Lend Your Meme A Veneer of Edginess or Subversiveness Without Actually Saying Anything Edgy or Subversive”. Its entire curriculum looks like this:
Use an image of a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.
If I had a nickel for every Guy Fawkes meme I’ve seen whose author believes he is laying down some woke truth, but is really just recycling stale old cynicism, I’d have…I don’t know…a couple bucks at least. I suppose it is fitting that the likeness of Fawkes accompanies memes like this; after all, Guy Fawkes’s failed plot to overturn the hierarchy of English royalty is somewhat analogous to this meme’s failed attempt to blow the lid off of the media’s alleged complicity in promoting racial divisiveness. Still, I have to laugh at the credibility boost that the author clearly thinks he is getting by using a picture of a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. He thinks he’s glimpsed the truth. I think the eye holes in the mask should be cut a bit wider.
The racial divide in this country is caused by racism, full stop. You could argue that certain media outlets bear a fraction of the responsibility for increasing racial tensions in the United States, but it’s not like the media invented racism. Racism has been a part of our national conversation since Day One. Racism exists in every dark corner of our society, and there are a lot of dark corners.
When the nebulous entity known as The Media does what it’s supposed to do, it shines a light into those dark corners. It exposes racism where it hides, and that’s a good thing. Like vampires and other vitality-sucking monsters, racism withers in the light. The media should not be excoriated for leading a national discussion on racism; it ought to be encouraged. We the people should not look away and curse the media when it brings us stories of horrible human suffering brought on by bigotry; we should huddle close and listen as intently as we can. We should ask how we can help, how we can be better, how we can end the cruelty.
People blame the media for promoting a racial divide because they want the media to stop talking about racism. I can almost understand why: if you’re a person of privilege who has never experienced direct racism, it can be a very uncomfortable thing to talk about. It absolutely should be uncomfortable – it is an unsavory topic – but that does not excuse us from talking about it. Contrary to the implication of this meme and others I’ve dissected, racism will not disappear if we all ignore it.
In the interest of stymieing the meme maker’s effort to stunt racial communication, here is a brief list of talking points I think the media should encourage every American to discuss:
- Racism is a real and driving force in modern-day America. It did not die with slavery. It did not end with the repeal of Jim Crow laws. It did not end when Barack Obama was elected president. It continues to exist. Denying the existence of racism, or claiming that racism is a myth propagated by the media to sell air time, is not helpful.
- Racism is present in both people and in institutions. A person’s racism may be countered by thoughtful dialogue and education, but institutional racism can only be curbed by sweeping systemic changes from within. Acknowledging one but ignoring the other is not helpful.
- Institutional racism is a power structure that can only be wielded by those who have historically held positions of power. In this country, that includes white men and…that’s all. Comments like “But black people are racist too!” or “All lives matter!” are not helpful.
- Minorities who claim to have been the victims of racism – in any form – should be listened to. Their claims should not be discarded out of hand. Terms like “playing the race card” are not helpful.
- Peaceful protests against racist institutions are not a threat to civilized society. Making people uncomfortable is not a crime, it is exactly the point of peaceful protests. Explicit or implied threats of violence against protestors – even if made in jest – are dangerously unhelpful. Bringing up every bad thing that has happened during an initially-peaceful protest, as if that serves as some kind of argument against protest in general, is also not helpful.
It’s a start. It’s more of a start than this meme’s author is willing to make, anyway.