An analysis of George Floyd-themed memes
A Critical Race Theory approach to analyzing memes surrounding the 2020 George Floyd protests
Keywords:George Floyd, framing, Black Lives Matter, social movement, memes, protests, systemic racism, social media
Protests took place around the world in response to the death of George Floyd who police officers killed in Minnesota on May 25, 2020. In response, activists and everyday citizens began creating, posting and sharing memes related to racism, oppression, peaceful versus violent forms of protests and historical parallels to Floyd’s death throughout history. This study employs CRT and a qualitative content analysis, to examine memes that emerged following pivotal historical moment. Study findings indicate memes went far beyond “just the facts” and humor to spread misinformation and feed negative stereotypes about Black people. The three dominant meme themes that emerged from the study were 1) Stereotypes and systemic racism; 2) Just the facts; and 3) Peaceful demonstrations. Study implications highlight the importance of CRT and how memes are used to highlight the deep wounds of systemic racism that exist in America.
ACLED (2020, August 31). US Crisis Monitor releases full data for summer 2020. https://acleddata.com/2020/08/31/us-crisis-monitor-releases-full-data-for-summer-2020/
Blackstone, G.. Cowart, H. & Saunders, L. (2017) TweetStorm in #ferguson: How News Organizations Framed Dominant Authority, Anti-Authority, and Political Figures in a Restive Community, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 61:3, 597-614, DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2017.1344670
Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist, 42: 4–17.
Bowen, S. (2015). A framing analysis of media coverage of the Rodney King incident and Ferguson, Missouri, conflicts. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6, (1).
Cabalin, C. (2014). Online and Mobilized Students: The Use of Facebook in the Chilean Student Protests. Estudiantes Conectados Y Movilizados: El Uso de Facebook En Las Protestas Estudiantiles En Chile., 22(43), 25–33. doi:10.3916/C43-2014-02
Campbell, H. A., Joiner, L., & Lawrence, S. (2018). Responding to the Meme-ing of the Religious Other. Journal of Communication & Religion, 41(2), 27–42.CBS/AP, & Am, 6:00. (2014, August). Ferguson and Michael Brown: 5 things you need to know. Retrieved October 24, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ferguson-and-michael-brown-5-things-you-need-to-know/
Cohen, M. (2020, July 1). Trump: Black Lives Matter is a ‘symbol of hate’. Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/01/trump-black-lives-matter-347051
Crenshaw, K. (1988). Race, Reform and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Anti-Discrimination Law. Harvard Law Review. 101 (7): 1331–1387Curnutt, H. (2012). Flashing Your Phone: Sexting and the Remediation of Teen Sexuality. Communication Quarterly, 60(3), 353–369. doi:10.1080/01463373.2012.688728
Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene (30th anniversary ed.). Oxford ; Oxford University Press. Print.
Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical Race Theory (Third Edition): An Introduction. New York University Press.
Dobson, K., & Knezevic, I. (2018). “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”: Framing and Stereotyping in Legacy and Social Media. Canadian Journal of Communication, 43(3), 381–397. https://doi-org.proxy.bsu.edu/10.22230/cjc.2019v44n3a3378
Ekdale, B., & Tully, M. (2014). Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s Collective Reimagining as a Meme of Aspiration. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 31(4), 283–298. http://doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2013.858823Entman, R. (1992). African Americans in the news: Television, modern racism and cultural change. Journalism Quarterly, 69(2), 341-361.
Erikson, C. (2012). 13 'Pinteresting' Facts About Pinterest Users. Mashable. Accessed on http://mashable.com/2012/02/25/pinterest-user-demographics/
Gamson, W. (1985). Goffman’s legacy to political sociology. Theory & Society, 14, 605–22.Goode, L. (2009). Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, 11(8), 1287–1305. doi:10.1177/1461444809341393
Harlow, S. (2013). It was a “Facebook revolution”: Exploring the meme-like spread of narratives during the Egyptian protests. Fue Una “Revolución de Facebook”: Explorando La Narrativa de Los Meme Difundidos Durante Las Protestas Egipcias., 12, 59–82.
Hristova, S. (2014). Visual Memes as Neutralizers of Political Dissent. TripleC (Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation): Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society,12(1), 265–276.
Hurwitz and Peffley (2010). And Justice for Some: Race, Crime, and Punishment in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 2010, 43 (2): 457-479.
Kilgo, D. (2020, May 29). Riot or resistance? How media frames unrest in Minneapolis will shape public’s view of protest.The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/riot-or-resistance-how-media-frames-unrest-in-minneapolis-will-shape-publics-view-of-protest-139713
Kilgo, D. K., & Harlow, S. (2019). Protests, media coverage, and a hierarchy of social struggle. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 24(4), 508-530.
LeDuff, K. M. "Critical Race Theory" , in The Routledge Companion to Media and Race ed. Christopher P. Campbell (Abingdon: Routledge, 06 Dec 2016 ), accessed 10 Aug 2020 , Routledge Handbooks Online.
Lindlof, T.R. & Taylor, B.C. (2011). Qualitative communication research. (3rd Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Mina, A. X. (2019). Memes to Movements: How the World's Most Viral Media is Changing Social Protest and Power. Beacon Press.
Moody-Ramirez, M., Tait, G. B., Smith, C., Fears, L., & Randle, B. (2016). Citizen Framing of #Ferguson on Twitter. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 5(3), 37–69.
Poell, T. (2014). Social media and the transformation of activist communication: exploring the social media ecology of the 2010 Toronto G20 protests. Information, Communication & Society, 17(6), 716–731. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2013.812674
Sci, S. A., & Dare, A. M. (2014). The Pleasure and Play of Pepper Spray Cop Photoshop Memes. Northwest Journal of Communication, 42(1), 7–34. Shifman, L. (2013). Memes in digital culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Singer, J. (2013) User-generated visibility: Secondary Gatekeeping in a Shared Media Space. New Media Society
Smith, W. A. (2010). Toward an understanding of Black misandric microaggressions and racial battle fatigue in historically White institutions. In V. C. Polite (Ed.), The state of the "African American male in Michigan: A courageous conversation (pp. 265-277). East Lansing: Michigan State University Press
Taylor, M., Kent, M. L., & White, W. J. (2001). How activist organizations are using the Internet to build relationships. Public Relations Review, 27(3), 263–284. doi:10.1016/S0363-8111(01)00086-8
Thomas, D. & Horowitz, J. M. (2020, September 16). Support for Blacks Lives Matter has decreased since June but remains strong among Black Americans. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/16/support-for-black-lives-matter-has-decreased-since-june-but-remains-strong-among-black-americans/
Thorson, K., Driscoll, K., Ekdale, B., Edgerly, S., Thompson, L., Schrock, A., Swartz, L., Vraga E., & Wells, C. (2013). YouTube, Twitter and the Occupy Movement. Information, Communication & Society, 16:3, 421-451, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2012.756051
Watkins, W. (2001). The white architects of black education: Ideology and power in America, 1865– 1954. New York: Teachers College Press. WEB
Yoon, I. (2016). Why is it not just a joke? Analysis of internet memes associated with racism and hidden ideology of colorblindness. Media in a Post-Racial Society, 33.
Zhou, L. & Nilsen, E. (2020, June 25). The House just passed a sweeping police reform bill. Vox.https://www.vox.com/2020/6/25/21303005/police-reform-bill-house-democrats-senate-republicans
LicenseAuthors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).