Viral Meme Dat Boi Ignites a Discussion About Racism

May 29th 2016

Lucy Tiven

You've probably come across 'dat boi' on your newsfeed, or seen him appear on Reddit.

twitter: [at] decktonic

But lately, things have changed.

The 3D model of a relaxed, unicycling frog — and not actually a 'boi' — has been widely circulated on the internet since its April debut, and is igniting a controversy over race.

How a frog unicycled into an argument about racism.

Early last week, the frog rode into the secret Facebook group "Post Aesthetics," and announced his arrival with his greeting of choice, “here come dat boi!!!!!! o shit waddup!”

But many of the group's 40,000 members weren't amused.

They argued that the meme was appropriating Black culture by using African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), PAPER Magazine reports.

A whirlwind of online arguments ensued over white privilege and internet vocabulary. The meme's critics — many of whom were people of color, while the group is reportedly predominantly white — argued that it invalidated language used by Black teenagers.

In defense of dat boi, some group members asserted that AAVE "should not be understood as being only ever spoken by black Americans," group moderator Tamia Thompson explained to PAPER. Others thought the firestorm was a result of the internet's hypersensitive "PC police," and did not believe that the frog was racially charged.

The verdict

The discussion ultimately led the group's moderators to enforce a "blanket ban" on dat boi, though he continues to pedal through individual Facebook newsfeeds and other parts of the internet, including an explainer published Friday on Vox.

There's a nebulous nature to memes in general — on an extremely basic level, memes often match seemingly random images and statements that people relate to, enjoy, and share.

But, as some of the group members pointed out, the language used in the dat boi meme isn't actually random — it invokes a specific dialect and culture that many who shared it were not a part of. Equivocating AAVE with random online absurdity erases its actual cultural context, and instead uses it as a device for the amusement of a largely white audience.

The line between cultural appreciation and appropriation can get blurry.

In 2014, "throw shade" was added to the Oxford Dictionary, a term that originated in Black and Latino gay culture, which some interpreted as form of cultural appropriation.

Pop culture has ripped off Black culture long before dat boi, memes, or the internet existed.

“Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,” Amandla Stenberg explained in her 2015 viral vlog "Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows." This definition certainly resonates with the dat boi debacle — though memes appear somewhat authorless, we use them freely to express our identities and emotions, which implies ownership — or entitlement at the very least.

Whatever your feelings for dat boi may be, the unicycling frog doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.

[h/t PAPER Magazine]