There’s a large body of research which shows that media portrayals help to form, perpetuate and harden stereotypes. This is particularly true when it comes to Black men and boys, who are more likely to be portrayed as criminals.
In the wake of the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and out of a sense of outrage at the way the media portrays Black people, a new twitter hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown was born, as various twitter users displayed photographs of themselves in ways that conform to negative stereotypes of African Americans and don’t. The hashtag has quickly evolved into a tumblr blog which you can view here.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that:
Since the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown campaign began, the phrase has been used on Twitter more than 168,000 times. Commenters on Twitter are also hoping to organize a series of vigils called the National Moment of Silence, which is meant to commemorate victims like Mr. Brown. The St. Louis County N.A.A.C.P. urged people on Twitter to use the hashtags #MikeBrown and #blacklifematters “so that your posts can be seen nationally.”
Local authorities in Ferguson are less enthusiastic about social media’s role, blaming it for inciting looting and violence following after the events. “They have the ability to understand where they’re all going to be, and they can basically plan where they want to go next,” said Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief. “So it’s a really efficient way to communicate.
What #iftheygunnedmedown demonstrates so powerfully is that, with all we know about stereotype formation in the brain, it seems that there really is no such thing as an objective photograph.Photographs, of course, are only a moment. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, often those thousand words are highly deceptive and edited. This is particularly true for teenagers, who take lots of photographs of themselves and experiment with different performed identities throughout adolescence.