Student recalls memes, recants former indifference toward racism

By: Andrew Koerner – Mechanical Engineering

The #blacklivesmatter campaign initially struck a bad chord with me as I am, first of all, not a fan of hashtags and, second, not one who viewed the initial cases of John Crawford and Eric Garner not as acts of racial injustice but as acts of unnecessary lethal force. For me, I was eager and curious to see what it takes to get us to talk about the lives of all people being something of value. Then I saw #alllivesmatter on Facebook and closed my laptop in disgust. It seemed to me as though people were just trying to find another thing to hashtag while ignoring the unique issues black people face in the world.

About three years ago, there was a Facebook page popular among UD students called University of Dayton Meme.  It’s still accessible today, but the last post was in October 2012, after which the admin transferred to a different university. Then the memes just stopped.  The page was losing momentum in the months prior for several reasons ranging from inadmissible memes promoting rape culture to the innocent misuses of the Willy Wonka template, in addition to general unfunniness.

Many user- created memes have since been removed, including some of my work. My most popular piece used The Sheltered College Freshman template with the caption “You’re going to Tim’s? What floor does he live on?”

I had a few other hits, but my last one was a mistake. I used the Put It Somewhere Else Patrick template coupled with the caption “We should take all the Asians in Club Roesch and put them back in Kettering Labs!”

I created this in response to another meme exclaiming that there was a frequent group of Chinese students who would sit in the library every night and talk extremely loudly. In spite of many likes on that post, there were some people who viewed it as racist. I ended up removing it myself and having a conversation with one of my superiors. During this I realized that, in my moment of creation, I was thinking of one thing: comedy. While it was never my intent to offend anyone I hadn’t considered how my joke would affect other members of the community.

It may not be fair to compare my story to police brutality and the loss of human life, but my point is simple: regardless of your intent, you can never exactly predict how a person will react to something you say. I honestly did not believe that racism still existed in America when I posted that meme because I hadn’t considered the different ways that racism manifests itself in our society and how it affects the lives of others.

After learning of some of the things said on YikYak during the silent protests on campus, I remembered my story and thought, “These people are probably just trying to be funny, but they’re coming across as incredibly ignorant.”

It’s unfair to think of a person as either 100 percent racist or 100 percent not racist. I do not believe that many people would murder another because of the color of their skin, nor do I believe that everyone sees every person regardless of color in the same light. Like many things, it’s somewhere in the middle. After reviewing even a few cases of unarmed black people being killed by white police officers in America, I am certain of one thing though: racism isn’t dead.

So talk to each other! Talk about injustice and share your views! It’s impossible for us to solve this if we aren’t listening to each other and thinking critically about our words. And if you slip up and your words are perceived differently than intended, embrace it and figure out why. In my conversation with my superior, I could’ve explained my intent and kept my previous indifference. But I didn’t. I learned from someone who knew more than me. That’s called humility, and, if you ask me, the world needs more of it. So with all that said, I’d like to see fewer hashtags and more conversations.