The Weekly Pop: A Moment in Pop Culture Episode #4

And now, we're on episode #4!  Woohoo!

You can watch here, on YouTube or just read all about it in the post below.  Enjoy and let me know what you think!  Also, don't forget to check out
You can watch this episode on YouTube and all the other episodes as well.  (Also, feel free to subscribe to my channel on YouTube as well).

Episode 4:  Memes That Make You Go Hmmmm

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Episode 4--that’s right, I’m still here--and apparently you are too because I got a bunch of watches on last week’s episodes.  So thanks everyone!  

This week episode is going to be shorter than previous weeks, but I think just as relevant and compelling--or at least that’s what I tell myself; that these episodes are relevant or compelling…..why do I hear crickets chirping?

Let’s start with this flavor meme that I’ve seen shared around the internet for years.  I’ve included a few different versions of it, and I’m sure there’s others, but let’s take a look at these few.  
A picture of a panda saying, "Dude, racism is stupid.  I am black, white, and Asian.  But everyone loves me.  So stop the hate and start the love man.

A picture of two pandas with text that reads:  "I love pandas, they're so chill.  They're like: "Dude, racism is stupid. I'm White, Black, and Asian."  At the bottom, it also says, "Panda's are so chill."

A picture of a panda and the statement: "Dude, racism is stupid.  I am black, white, & Asian. But everybody still loves me."

So when you look at this meme, what do you see?  What's its main idea and how comfortable are you with that?

On the surface level, I think people will get a chuckle out this and appreciate the sentiment that the meme appears to be communicating, right?  That racism in a modern society is dumb and if you want evidence of that, look at how everyone seems to like Pandas because they are relaxed, from Asian countries and therefore, "Asian" but also black and white--or rather have black and white fur.

That's what memes are for--images often juxtaposed banal, humorous, or ironic statements that simplify complexities in our world to very simple ideas.

In this way, memes are fascinating and powerful and can help people get to core of an idea, position, or worldview.  That can be super helpful--as I'm sure we've all encountered memes of one sort or another that have helped us articulate that which we were thinking but did not necessarily have the clarity of thought to produce.  I know that's the case for me.  

But memes are equally damning because in their abstracting of complex ideas, they also gloss over or undermine the bigger picture, often just for an opportunity to play a perpetual game of "Internet Ah-ha gotcha", which no one ever wins.  

So when you look at this meme--what do you imagine could be possibly wrong?  Feel free to pause the video and revisit the image to think about it.  Go ahead and pause it...I'll be here--I promise.  

Ok, are you back? I remember the first time that I saw this meme, the first thing that came to mind was this:

I found it interesting that as living proof that "racism is stupid", they used pandas.  Pandas as a species have grappled with being on the "endangered species" list for decades as a result of both environmental destruction and poaching.  That is, we apparently love pandas so much that we're willing to destroy their homes and kill them, often leaving the only places for them to survive is zoos--that animal version of prison mixed with the reality TV show, Big Brother.  

This is how we illustrate our love for pandas? For racism?

If that sounds like the perversity of an abusive partner who professes love for a partner--you're probably right.  

Our love for the panda is destructive and harmful--to the pandas, to the environment, and ultimately to ourselves.  

So on the surface level, this meme tells a story that it probably didn't intend to tell--and that's  the story I'm going to talk about.

You see, this meme represents the problem of racism in our country much better than the creator realizes.  In our culture, we talk about racism as an individual dynamic; almost a conscious choice to disregard people of other races.  

That feeds in strongly with our individual ethic in the US, no doubt.  But it also misses the point that racism's most pernicious form is structural racism--that is, how the system blinds the individuals to understanding how they are indeed perpetuating inequalities.  And we often blind ourselves to the systematic forces by profering it up as an individual choice or experience.

Therefore, this meme is a prime example of that.  To the naive viewer, they see this and may think to themselves,  "That's right, I'm not racist.  I live everyone."  Or they might claim "I don't see color."  

So the meme tricks us into thinking we're not like "those people" who choose to hate people of different races.  It reaffirms our existence without raising any questions.  

Yet! By doing so, it allows us to ignore really questioning how we may be perpetuating racism without even knowing it.  Just like we may "love pandas"--our way of showing that love is perverse and just like we may love other races, we are likely just as perverse in our execution of it.  We can claim we love it and therefore, are not racist or have to do anything about it, because we are not actively hating.  But we are passively allowing bad things to happen--namely, racial inequality.  

As the meme suggests--racism does exist, but it is stupid, so you can choose not to be racist.  But in knowing that there is racism, does that call upon you to act in some way beyond personally choosing not to dislike other races?  That’s a question, the meme doesn’t ask in its abstracted state.  It leaves you to believe, everything’s chill.  

Let’s take a step back and say if you love agreed that you love pandas and then realize that they are endangered due to environmental destruction and poaching, do you feel required to act?  If you don’t feel required to act, can you say you really love them?  If after admitting you love pandas and finding out that they are in trouble, you go about your day and decide to not act or even to forget about the pandas--how do we understand that?  How is that not passively perpetuating the harm?

Well, in the lingo of racism discourse, we call that privilege and privilege permeates throughout structural racism.  It allows people to not have to see or not feel obligated to act when they encounter features that clearly privileged, protects, or blind people to the systematic inequalities of races within a given culture.  

Here again, the meme shows us--that you can love pandas but you don’t have to do anything about it--even if you find out bad things are happening to them by humans.  You have the privilege of not caring because you are not a panda or currently impacted by the negative societal effects directed towards pandas.  

Instead, you go about your life saying that you care for pandas but never challenging what that means.  We can understand this approach is akin to when we as humans say things like, “I’m color blind.” Or  “I don’t see race.”  

Again, it’s an endearing statement because it implies we are free from bias (which we’re not) and that we treat people as individuals, not in relation to their racial make up.

Sidebar:  Whatever we mean by racial make up--is inevitably unclear.  We know that race as a concept is a socially constructed idea but because we assumed it a real idea for hundreds of years and codified that idea into our laws, cultural ideologies, and scientific views, well, trying to undo that is like successfully creating lines on Tetris, level 2000.

So the color-blind person claims to not see color, but the reality is, they do and they do more harm by pretending not to see color than actually seeing it.  Because it’s not about seeing or not seeing color, being or not being an individual racist.  It’s about understanding the fundamental structures of our society have created situations where as a result of one’s perceived race, they experience quite different experiences in the US (and elsewhere) within the legal, cultural environmental, and societal side effects that mean--in the aggregate--they have less opportunity and experience more discrimination, violence, and disregard by all of us.  

So, that’s a lot to take from a single meme, but that’s why I wanted to do this video.  Memes have become a modern means of short-handing complexity and often used to disregard people we disagree with.  However, embedded in these memes are often things that are likely way more complicated and encourage us to be a bit more mindless than we should be; especially the memes that you like.

It’s easy to spot the flaws in a meme you disagree with; but can you do that with the memes you agree with--and if so, should that give you pause to share it?

All right, that’s all for today.  What kinds of memes have you found to be problematic?  Not memes you disagree with, but memes that you like?  Go out and explore and let me know what you discover.  

So what are your thoughts on today’s episode?  I’d love to hear them so post them in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter-- @leaton01

See you next week!  Keep watching; keep thinking!

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