Memes: feels bad, man

Memes don’t always display cultural insensitivity but when they do, they can be hurtful.

by Tiffany Trawick

     Social networking strikes again. There has been a lot of uproar these last couple weeks regarding a fairly new phenomena, Internet memes. For those who do not know, the term meme is actually a biological term that signifies the transmission of cultural items by way of repetition. Today it has come to mean the transmission of different media, i.e. pictures, videos or animated gifs, from one Internet user to another. Most of the time memes will contain funny phrases or images.

Recently, a meme Web page was created specifically for the University of Minnesota by an anonymous source. The first time I encountered these memes, they were actually posted on my campus apartment’s community bulletin board. I personally found them hilarious, as they pointed out funny situations particular to the University. However, once I took a look at the Facebook page, I experienced a different tone. I was so taken aback to find, among the humor, many memes that were created making fun of specific groups of people on campus, namely minorities. Some users portrayed African-American students as animals, poked fun at the Asian population on our campus and even made derogatory comments toward the homosexual community.

It wasn’t long after that I started hearing comments about this in class. There were even students that wanted to start a petition against the pages or at least have a moderator.

I checked up on the University meme pages about a day ago and noticed that a lot of the meme images had been removed, including those that had been found offensive to certain cultures represented on this campus. But this did not happen until two weeks after the page was created.

However, even while many students are urging the administrators to moderate every post created in order to prevent offensive comments, other students believe that contributing students should have the right to post whatever they want. “If I want to speak my mind, I want to be able to speak my mind,” said Brianna Wilson, a junior. However, many others felt that the memes revealed the true mindset of a large part of our own student body and the racism that is still very evident in our society today.

Lolla Mohammed Nur, a senior at the University, was extremely active against the memes pages. “I first heard about it when my Asian-American friend sent me a link to the page. He said he was very offended,” she said. Mohammed Nur expressed sentiment for the entire student body of color. “It’s hurtful to us because we constantly have to be on the defensive, defending our right to be here while we are paying tuition too.”

Wilson expressed similar ideas, pointing out the fact that the memes are revealing how people truly feel. “This speaks to how culturally insensitive a lot of students are at the University of Minnesota … they [the University] try to promote diversity, but it’s not true for a lot of the students here,” said Wilson.

Both Wilson and Mohammed Nur said the University needs to do more. “This is why safe places are so important,” Wilson said, referring to student groups such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally and the Black Student Union that are at risk of losing space in the reconstruction plan of Coffman Memorial’s second floor. Mohammed Nur suggested the University provide a healthy space for all students to unlearn racist tendencies and “decolonize their minds.”

The memes have pointed out a big issue. Though most memes do seem benign, the humor from these specific pages has revealed the racism that still does exist, even on this campus.