Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

Why Is It Not Just a Joke? Analysis of Internet Memes Associated with Racism and Hidden Ideology of Colorblindness

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

Why Is It Not Just a Joke? Analysis of Internet Memes Associated with Racism and Hidden Ideology of Colorblindness

Article excerpt

Overt Jim Crow racism is rarely found in public discourse; there has been a decline in overt racist talk (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). This might explain why one of my students challenged me about showing racist Disney movie clips in a college art class. The student argued that the video I showed was outdated and we no longer see "that kind of racism" these days. I agreed with him in the sense that the video clips were from the 1970s and 1980s; from our current perspectives, the clips were extremely and obviously racist. However, I did not agree with his idea that we are no longer exposed to racism in media. Overt racist discourse has been replaced with covert colorblindness (Bonilla-Silva, 2006) or denial (van Dijk, 1992). Bonilla-Silva (2006) explains that colorblindness is a gentler form of racism or "racism lite," which operates in a covert, subtle, and institutional way (p. 3). In a similar vein, overt racism in media and pop culture has been altered from aggressive racism to subtle colorblindness.

Critical race scholars consider race an important factor that affects peoples' lives. John Calmore contends, "Racism operates so effectively that we seldom distinguish serious racist harms from a variety of other harms that categorically run from 'bad luck' to 'natural catastrophes'" (as cited in Powell, 2008, p. 792). Even though critical race theorists have heavily influenced my perspective, I admit that engaging students in discussions of racial issues in the classroom is not an easy task. In the era of political correctness, phrases such as "I don't see people's color, I see individuals" become a way to avoid the discussion about racial issues. Nevertheless, being truly colorblind is an unachievable goal given that we are both consciously and unconsciously aware of people's phenotypic traits.

This project stemmed from the question: how can art educators engage students in discussions of racial issues in their classrooms? As a way to bring racial issues to the art classroom, I examined Internet memes about racism. Goldberg (1993) considers racialized expressions in Internet culture "in ternis of a field of discourse" (p. 41). I started this project by collecting Internet memes including the phrase "that's racist." "That's racist" is popular as a catchphrase among Internet users and is widely used in Internet memes. Ulaby (2011) points out that saying "that's racist" becomes a way to avoid difficult discussions of racism among young people. Additionally, Google Trends (2015) shows a steady growth of search queries for the keywords "that's racist." In this sense, "that's racist" memes can provide an understanding of critical aspects of racial discourse in Internet memes. I also included different types of Internet memes associated with racism in order to expand the variety of my data.

An assumption underlying this study is that Internet memes on racism should be investigated as a site of ideological reproduction. Popular discourse including humor is an ideal lens through which to examine how everyday interaction and social dynamics influence and are influenced by ideology and the social structure (Sue & Golash-Boza, 2013). Many researchers study Internet memes as a prism for looking into certain aspects of contemporary society and culture (Knobel & Lankshear, 2006b; Milner, 2013; Shifman, 2013, 2014b). Given that digital media and the Internet have become a more compelling means to participate in art activities (National Endowment for the Arts, 2010), I assume many teenagers and young adults know and are actively involved in Internet meme culture. Moreover Internet memes can show unfiltered thoughts and comments due to their anonymity. Internet culture is especially significant in the study of racial discourse in that the Internet became one of the most important mediums available to those who post racist invectives with impunity (Hill, 2008). Weaver (2011a) also states that the Internet is one of a few sites where racist humor can be accessed and shared without being censored. …

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