A dancer on “Dancing With the Stars” is currently being sued by the family of the girl pictured in a meme which captioned “Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.”
His post reads:
“I am truly sorry for the lack of sensitivity… but on some level I have to agree. Raising a child is the hardest thing in the world, I know, but being negligent when it comes to their nutrition is a crime. The lifelong obstacles and health issues you place on your child because of it can be devastating moving forward in their life. You’re handicapping your kid, and they’re defenseless, they don’t know better, that’s why you’re there… anyway I’m just a childless preacher, but here’s some food for thought. #nopunintended”
The dancer didn’t know it, but he was meme shaming a girl born with down syndrome and her family by 1) accusing the family of a form of child abuse and 2) telling the parents they were handicapping their child who was defenseless.
(Read more here on The Mighty.)
My mother gave birth to a child. She “handicapped” him by passing on her rare genetic disease. He drooled on his shirt, he made odd noises in Wal-Mart, and he had a protruding belly.
Picture for just a second – What would a mother feel if her child were put in a meme like #peopleofwalmart because he drools on his shirt? What would a mother feel if her child were fat shamed in a meme written by someone with obvious genetic gifts and talents like a dancer she can see on national TV?
Go a step further – how would a family which loves and cares for an individual with special needs, child or adult, feel if you secretly snapped a picture, put some funny white words on it, and shared it on the internet?
Are you willing to advance some social custom you believe better than another by using pictures of people whose story you don’t know?
What would you feel in your gut if you meme shamed a parent or a child to later find out what you were trying to make fun of or change in that person was beyond his or her control from birth?
This handsome, wealthy and talented dancer is getting sued because he made that mistake. He meme shamed a family with special needs because he took for granted that everyone should be able to walk and talk and control impulses like he does and if they don’t, they deserve to feel bad about themselves. He assumed that if a parent doesn’t raise a child like he would want his to turn out, that they are “handicapping” their child. He deserves to be sued. He caused great emotional harm to this family. He did it without thought.
But he is not the only one.
I googled “handicapped meme”. These are some of the tamer, impersonal ones. I share the images here not because I like them, but because people who care have to realize what is so passively accepted and stop passing it along or letting it happen:
On the right day, perhaps these seem funny. This isn’t that day. These types of images hurt people – people who struggle with a life situation many have no idea how to comprehend. Think about that from a mother’s perspective. Think about that from a child’s perspective.
This isn’t Nazi Germany and sharing a meme doesn’t make anyone Hitler – but come on, those images are dehumanizing. These images say to someone “your dignity is worth less than mine” and “I’m going to use your misfortune to feel better as I shame you publicly in a way I can never take back.”
Do you want to be that person?
Memes of cartoon characters are one thing, but let’s go to the next step. Are you really willing to take a picture of a person at Wal Mart and publicly shame them for being different than you?
What if? What if that person is different than you in a way you would NEVER make fun of it you stopped to think about it.
Are you willing to share the picture your friend posted of someone dressed in tacky mismatching colors because she dresses in a way you wouldn’t?
What if? What if her mother sees it and thinks you see her as a failure because she can’t love her child enough to make her like you?
Don’t be that person. Don’t take that risk. Instead, pledge to #memenotmean.
Don’t take pictures of people you don’t know in order to shame them. Don’t share pictures of people you don’t know to get a laugh. Don’t like pictures that shame someone you know nothing about.
You might not like what you are shaming. You might not realize the story of the person in the picture. But the family might.
Think before you shame – what if his mother saw this? What if this popped up in his sister’s feed? What if this person read these words? Is it really that funny?
The social clout someone gets from shaming someone they don’t know can’t be worth it.
Don’t do it.
If you pledge to #memenotmean share this article with the hashtag #memenotmean and maybe we can help a few people think twice about people they don’t know but can still hurt.
This is my brother Dustin. Someone could make a meme that said something you could find on the internet like “Life is like a box of chocolates, it doesn’t last as long for fat people.” But that wouldn’t be very funny. He died at age 13. His belly wasn’t big because he chose it to be. You might recognize by his face that he carried myotonic muscular dystrophy. You might not recognize what affects someone else in a meme by their face. Be kind.