Criminal Justice System and Society: Individuals vs. Systems – Meme Analysis


In my African American History class, the students all decided to blog about this image and then compare our thoughts. I said I would join in. Like any good meme, this is thought-provoking and delivers a bunch of information very quickly.

The problem with this meme is that it focuses on individuals and uses these three individuals inappropriately as historical stand-ins. Meaning these three men–without any discussion of all of the millions and millions of tangible and intangible factors that resulted in them being where they are–represent the sum and total of being racialized as Black and sexualized as a Man in the United States in 2015. Tangible and intangible factors would relate to intersectionality and history – both personal histories and larger social, micro and macro, histories.  

Additionally, statistically the Black “criminal” in this picture would not be there if he had skin several shades lighter. Additionally, while there is no geographical reference in the meme, statistically speaking, Black Men in Blue states are much less likely to be taken to courts.

And, we must remember that today, right now, 1 in 3 Black Men across the nation are in prison or jail or they are on probation or parole. At current trends, 1 out of 3 of those accidentally born Black and Male will be in prison at some point in their life. Issues are not related to “crime.” Crime has gone down. 

Additionally, the meme is problematic because it suggest there are extremely easy problems and causes, solutions and effects.

Further, it assumes the police officer and the lawyer are happy, powerful, and successful and free from social racism.

Humans generally, and United Statesians more specifically, can hardly stand to recognize that evolution, DNA, history, society, geography, etc, etc, etc, all “predetermine” to tremendously large degrees what is and is not possible. People like to think they, as individuals did so-and-so and worked hard for so-and-so. Ignoring the complex is easy –and extremely dangerous. No one, especially those with any kind of privilege (White, Male, Heterosexual, Christian, Cisgendered, Able-bodied, etc), simply achieves success from working hard – much more than hard work is involved. Sure, it can be uncomfortable, but that is a sign of how important such conversations are.  

Historians use political cartoons in books and lectures – soon they will use meme to illustrate parallel points! 

(Check out the others here:  Tim’sCaitlin’sSara’s, Alisha’s – see how we agree and disagree!)