Commentary: Young Adults Beat Stereotypes One Laugh at a Time Online

Satire is the key to exposing discrimination for young African-Americans.

Posted: 08/01/2014 11:30 AM EDT

Akilah Hughes (l.), Vine user 'rashidpolo' (c.) and Yaya M. (r.) have used the Internet and satire to speak out about racial discrimination and stereotypes. (Photos from left: Smoothiefreak via YouTube.com, Rashid Polo via Vine, Yaya M via Gofundme)

In 2014, the Internet is fair game for young African-Americans to critique society when it fails to tell their story the right way. 

But it’s not just about being scathing toward those who appropriate, stereotype and treat Black culture as a safari — it is also about the laugh-inducing satire: the ability to freely mock those who attempt to define their culture.

Ninety-six percent of African-American users 18 to 29 use some kind of social-media platform, according to Pew Research Center. On “Black Twitter,” those who commit micro-agressions are roasted with clever hashtags.

But that’s old news. The funny movement is also on Vine, crowd-funding sites and YouTube.

“She’s been following me around the store, the whole time…There she go, she think I’m stealing!”

Vine user ‘rashid polo’ yells this in a clip as he is being followed around in a store by an associate. Polo tapes the ordeal with his camera on selfie mode. This was the second time he caught a store clerk following him, according to the Vine’s caption. “#SheThinkImStealingPart2” has been viewed nearly 20 million times.

“Discrimination is never cool. I'm glad I could shed some light on such a sensitive topic in a positive way,” rashid polo tweeted on July 21. Two days later he wrote that if he keeps getting followed then he’ll keep recording and exposing salespeople who follow him.

And then there's Yaya M. of New York City, who launched a GoFundMe fundraiser called “I need some white privilege” in July.

“Although I have layered oppressions that have affected my ability to access my slice of the American Pie™, no issue has affected me more readily than my lack of white privilege,” the woman writes on the campaign page.

In exchange for the white privilege, she gives perks of Black privilege to those who support her campaign.

Some of the perks include being able to call her your Black friend when saying, “I’m not racist, I have a Black friend!”, a mixtape of “urban music” and the big prize — Yaya M. will dress up as a cop, harass you and record the encounter to post on WorldStarHipHop.com to be “Internet famous.”

Yaya M. says she’s had to endure being viewed as a cheater for getting into gifted and talented schools and college by way of affirmative action, having her natural hair viewed as unprofessional, among other obstacles.

Her fundraising goal is $135,000 — calculated based on the income gap between African-American women and white men and the amount of money she’s lost since she’s been in the labor force. So far she’s raised $5,670 in 20 days.

The reaction to her post was mixed. Some supported her cause: “Never ceases to amaze me how angry white folk get over stuff like this. The irony of it is hilarious!” wrote Lesane Crooks on the campaign page.

Another thought Yaya M. didn't not deserve any money. “It is sad to hear that the lazy people of our generation, try to get a free ride on the backs of hard working people,” commenter Edgar Mendoza wrote.

Regardless of your opinion, Yaya M. has succeeded in drawing attention to white privilege and how it still impacts society, in a clever way not seen before.

“How Do Black People Feel About Haunted Houses?”

This is a real question YouTube sensation Akilah Hughes, 24, received on her Tumblr blog from a white commenter. Instead of critiquing the user for assuming she is the “guide” to all things Black people, she decided to play into it.

“I think that if I came at it in an angry way or if I came at it in a way that was strictly like ‘don’t ask that,’ it’s kinda off-putting,” Hughes told BET.com.

Her video “Meet Your First Black Girlfriend” has received more than one million views.

“I would much rather them see the humor it in and then be like, ‘Oh, OK. I am being completely ridiculous,’ and then we can have that conversation and move on,” she continued.

Hughes is not alone in creating snarky content in response to race. The film Dear White People, a satire about being a Black face in a white place, takes a similar approach to stereotypes. To promote the film, the creators behind the film have released a series called The More You Know About Black People, debunking myths about fried chicken, “Why Black People Are Afraid of the Man” and “Are Black Men Really Bigger?” to name a few.  

“We are often stereotyped and I think it’s great that we have the power now to make our own content that people are clearly looking for,” Hughes added to the conversation.  

Some may wonder whether the battle against racism and stereotypes can actually be won by way of tweeting, recording Vines, and videos on YouTube. But if racism is rooted in a flawed thought process and reinforced by stereotypes in traditional media, this method may be a key part of shifting how future generations see race. Seeing Black and white is not an issue, but seeing people as less than human because of their color is.

There is much work to be done before society can get to that point. Sometimes we will get angry and shed tears at the inequalities. In other instances, we can laugh our way through the pain. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Follow Natelege Whaley on Twitter: @Natelege_

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