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Breonna Taylor died at the age of 26 in the hands of Louisville law enforcement, prompting many to post memes about her on social media.

Social Media

Breonna Taylor’s Death is Not a Meme

“Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” started out as a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement— but in attempts to spread awareness, her death has been co-opted by meme culture, dehumanizing Taylor into a symbol of performative allyship. 

Breonna Taylor, a 26 year-old Black woman and emergency room technician, was sleeping on March 13, 2020 when police forcibly entered her Louisville home and shot her to death.

Shortly after her murder, many took to social media to voice their frustrations, reposting illustrations of Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality and sharing resources on how to help. 

As calls to “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” entered the mainstream, however, so did memes about bringing attention to her murder. 

 

Critics of the memes point out that using the phrase “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” as a meme invalidates Taylor’s death. 

 

The death of a Black woman at the hands of a broken policing system shouldn’t be a punchline. It’s disrespectful to Breonna Taylor’s loved ones and the countless other victims of police brutality. When we dehumanize those victims, we trivialize the seriousness of their deaths. Breonna Taylor was a woman with aspirations, emotions, family and friends. Breonna Taylor was and is not a punchline. 

 

Memes come and go— so when Breonna Taylor’s death is used in a meme, it implies that speaking out against police brutality is a trend. Real change is ignited through permanently changing our cultural attitudes, not exploiting social media activism for digital clout or virtue signalling. 

Breonna Taylor’s memeification fits into larger truths about the treatment of Black women in social media. From far-right conspiracy theories about Michelle Obama being transgender to Serena Williams being forced into the “angry Black woman” trope, perceptions in media tend to hypersexualize or objectify Black women for comedic purposes.

Black women are often commodified into objects of humor on the Internet. In 2019, for instance, the second most-used GIF depicts a young Black girl angrily staring into the camera. Popular search results on GIPHY, a GIF-sharing site, include “sassy Black lady” and “angry Black lady.” GIF usage confirms the idea that Black women are squeezed into overly emotional, aggressive caricatures for Internet entertainment.

It is indisputable that our current wave of social media attention directed towards social justice has catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement: petitions urging for legal accountability have been signed by millions, and Black-owned businesses have seen a surge in sales.

But we must acknowledge the role that media has in shaping our preconceived notions of Black women. Sharing memes of Breonna Taylor’s death perpetuates the stereotype that Black women are objects to be consumed for our entertainment.

Featured image via Twitter

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Written By

Derek Deng is a freshman at Duke University. He is particularly interested in the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in a pop-cultural context.

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