Social media networks can often be a cauldron of fuckery, and this is most evident in the viral memes that are initiated on Instagram and Twitter. We’ve been blessed with Kermit the Frog, Olivia “Boss Chick” Kendall, Guess Who and a myriad of other memes that deliver snarky messages laden with popular culture references.
While memes are designed to be, and often are, entertaining, the messages contained within them don’t exist in a vacuum. If we are to see memes, and the rapid reposting of them, as representative of the Internet age we exist in, then we must be real about how memes reiterate dangerous ideas that are often unspoken, but firmly believed.
Enter DaQuan, a meme that exploded onto Twitter, and then, Instagram, earlier this week. DaQuan is a fictional Black man who’s dating a white teenager. The meme depicts the white teen attempting to explain her relationship with DaQuan to her suburban parents. This scenario is common in a nation where 87 percent of the American population approves of interracial relationships, and can thus be navigated with jest (as has been done in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and its remake, Guess Who?). However, the DaQuan meme is a massive failure.
These memes reiterates false dichotomies about Black men and white men. As evidenced in the memes circulating, DaQuan is a narcotics dealer, will leave the white woman without a father to raise their illegitimate children, will ruin her academic life, is a rapper, etc. None of these characteristics are inherently awful. There are absent fathers, drug dealers and rappers in every racial community, and most of those scenarios are more complex than we’re accustomed to seeing on television and in movies. But when a meme deduces a Black man, even if he is fictional, to the bane of a white woman’s destruction, we have a problem.
Not only does this neglect to mention the terrible character flaws of men of other races and ethnicities, but it also fails to note how ahistorical it is and continues to be. For centuries, Black men endured brutality in the form of spectacle lynchings to protect white women from an inherent bruteness whites attached to Black manhood. The virtue of white women was considered so precious that it was worth emasculating black men and hanging them from trees by their necks. Black men are not the ruination of white women, but that hasn’t stopped the DaQuan meme from circulating social media platforms and receiving a chorus of “YES! Stay away from DaQuan” in response.
When we understand Black men as inherently dangerous, underachieving and incapable of giving women anything other than harm, we reinforce a cultural norm that often leaves bullets in the backs of Black boys and causes folks to cross the street. It also creates a binary between Black men e.g. DaQuan and white men e.g. David that allows white men to appear superior in moral fiber and as potential spouses based solely on a false dichotomy.
Black men aren’t the sole punchlines in these missing-the-point memes. Black women are often subjected to similar binaries designed to shame. Memes pitting Oprah against twerkers imply that women who choose to clap their cheeks can’t also be financially successful, and buys into the notion that only respectable women are guaranteed happiness.
There is some truth in memes, but that truth is often rooted in faux realities that don’t account for the nuances of Black culture. And there’s nothing funny about that.