I saw these two images online today. I laughed at first one, which I’ll refer to as “Harlem,” and I was offended by the second one, which I’ll refer to as “Detroit.”
According to Mary Douglas (1991), a joke expresses something a community is ready to hear; an insult expresses something it doesn’t want to consider. The current Harlem Shake meme is not at all related to the original, and Harlemites are furious over the comparison. This aggravation may be warranted, and the image (as captioned) appears to encapsulate that frustration.
Alternatively, the 2nd image, “Detroit,” plays on existing stereotypes of Detroit as a dangerous place, dominated by angry Black men that will attack you if you step foot in the city. This caption only rehashes traditional racist ideology without any awareness or humor regarding current issues.
I’ve also been chatting with the director of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, who is seeking to use agriculture as a platform to promote education, community, and sustainability, and reduce socioeconomic disparity. Initiatives like this one are essential to changing how people, both within and outside Detroit, perceive Detroit and its inhabitants.