I continue seeing memes that people have created, “liked,” and shared with apparent “good-faith intentions,” which are incredibly offensive. The most recent such meme I’ve seen shared is of a sign posted by United Church in University Place, Washington, that states as follows:
“We’d rather see two men holding hands than two men holding guns.”
“Two men holding hands” implies that the men are gay.
That church describes itself as an ”‘open and affirming’ and ‘reconciling’ congregation” and states the following on its website:
"These terms are simply the formal expressions our two denominations [United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church] use to convey the idea that there is sincere welcome for LGBTQIA people in our churches. Our understanding of Scripture rejects the idea that any of God's children are 'less than' any others in any way."
This sign does not reflect the approval, acceptance, or even tolerance of gay people. Rather, it merely states that “two men holding hands” is preferable to “two men holding guns.” It is incredibly offensive because it compares two completely unrelated things and then says one is preferable to the other, which can easily be viewed as the lesser of two evils.
I do not question the church’s sincerity; however, I am stating that the sign is a reflection of unchecked implicit bias.
People are aware of and consciously endorse their explicit biases. When they perceive them as valid, what is unfair will not register as such. Most biases are unconscious, though, and arise through learned associations. These are known as implicit biases and often cause people to act in ways that are inconsistent with their core values.
I discovered this sign through a meme created from it. The meme I saw indicates it is from “Go Left,” a Facebook group that says “Democrats Are the Best” and which claims to exist to “Restore Democracy. Restore Decency. Restore Honesty.”
Again, I do not question the group’s “good-faith intentions”; however, the meme is inconsistent with its stated values.
The LGBT Memes Facebook group describes itself as follows:
“A place for LGBT+ memes. Gatekeeping and bigotry towards trans, ace, aro, enby, etc., people will not be tolerated.”
Meanwhile, a meme identified as being associated with that group states as follows:
“I’d much rather live next door to someone flying this flag [a rainbow flag] than one of these [a Confederate flag or a Nazi flag].”
Similarly, the Together Against Hate Facebook group shared the following meme:
“I’d much rather live next door to a loving immigrant family than a white supremacist.”
Sadly, I have even seen such memes “liked” and shared by licensed mental health care professionals. I do not know what people are thinking by creating, “liking,” and sharing such memes. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I will just assume that they were not thinking. To the extent that these memes were created, “liked,” and shared with “good-faith intentions,” it demonstrates an empathy gap. How would you like it if someone said they preferred you over something they find vile? Would that cause you to feel all warm and fuzzy? Would that cause you to feel as though they were an ally of yours—that they had your back?
What is so noteworthy is that such offensive memes are often created, “liked,” and shared by members of the very groups they offend, by groups that purportedly stand for “decency” and against bigotry and hate. It reminds me of the phase, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”
That said, I tend to agree with the following statement by social science researcher Brené Brown:
"At any given moment, people are really trying to do the best they can with what they have. Our bests are all different."
To the extent that you thought that any or all of these statements were supportive of members of historically marginalized groups, consider this a test of your implicit biases and an indication that additional development of your emotional self-awareness and empathy is in order. Emotional self-awareness and emotional empathy combine to create “self-other awareness.” One cannot accurately understand someone else without first understanding themselves.
Nobody and nothing is perfect, which means there is always room for improvement.