A lot of things have been happening recently that make me think about being a leader, in the sense of looking out for the community you’re leading. As a Twitch streamer/content creator, I do have an influence that I need to constantly think about, and whether I like it or not, my actions in this position mean something. What I allow to come into my community speaks on the values that I have, and it could either strengthen or sever bonds that I’ve worked hard to create.
The latest craze that made me have to come face-to-face with this aspect of being a leader was none other than that dumb Ugandan Knuckles meme that everyone uses in VR Chat.
For those who aren’t aware, Ugandan Knuckles is a meme centered around a purposely in-accurate animation of Knuckles the Echidna from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and said drawing was used in a popular gaming Youtuber’s video for a review on the latest game in the series. The animation was intended to poke fun at only the character himself, but was then adopted by people using VR Chat, a Second-Life, IMVU-esque virtual chat room where you can make yourself become almost any character that you want and chat with other people in the server. People used this altered form of Knuckles, swarming people in groups, asking them “do you know the way?” in a Ugandan accent. If people don’t answer, they’ll usually say something like “he does not know the way,” and sometimes, even mention something about finding their queen. They even go as far as mentioning things about needing to have ebola to “find the way,” and they’ll make loud clicking sounds, too.
To get the full effect, here’s a video of it happening:
The meme has sky-rocketed from there, appearing on many different websites and platforms. For more details on the racist nature behind it, this is the article I read that helped me see how racist this meme really is.
I had seen the meme before learning about its racism, but after learning that disturbing tidbit, I knew immediately that I wouldn’t use it. Not only that, but I also wouldn’t tolerate it being used in my respective communities (Twitch, the Discord server I use for community-building, as responses for any of my social media profiles, etc.). I get that it’s meant to be funny, but surprisingly, you can still cross lines when it comes to making jokes. Fancy that! Despite so many white people saying we “shouldn’t take it seriously” or that “there are bigger battles to fight than a stupid meme,” I’ve decided to make sure that the spaces I offer will stay free of it. If I were to see how racist it is, and still allow it to be tolerated in the communities that I run, how would that look on me?
As a leader of a community, you have do make a decision about something like that rolling into said community, whether or not you personally believe it’s offensive. Sure, you can say “whatever” and just let it happen because you don’t believe it’s harmful, but you’ll then look like someone who allows racism into your community. And sure, it may just be some dumb meme circling the internet, but it’s a dumb meme that stems from some pretty harmful and racist stereotypes, so who’s to say that people wouldn’t put it past you to allow even more harmful jokes about minorities? I’m not saying it would happen, but it’s likely that the community could see it that way. It’s no longer just about your views when it comes to managing a community. You have people from many walks of life to look after now, and displaying attitudes that would make you seem intolerant to their struggles would be a sure-fire way for them to feel unwelcome.
When I’ve brought these points up to someone, the first response I get is, “but then I have to ban everything that someone says is offensive.” Occasionally, they have also added, “people find everything offensive, nowadays.” My response to both of those statements is that people generally don’t go looking for things to be offended by, despite that attitude being fairly prevalent (usually by modern-day bigots). Sure, people who normally face discrimination may be more on guard to things that directly affect them, but I can’t say we go looking for content that offends us. Do you know how exhausting it is to be offended? I usually need a nap after having to call someone out for being bigoted. There may be a select few people who get off on finding things to be angry about, but most marginalized people just want to go to the places they enjoy, whether it’s on the internet or otherwise, and feel like they are among people who wouldn’t allow discrimination to come their way. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a much better situation.
As an individual, it’s easy to say something isn’t offensive just because you’re not personally offended by it. However, when you’re the face of a community, the attitudes you allow into your respective spaces start to contribute to how people see you as a brand, company, public figure, or any other status that can generate a following. You have to decide how you want to dictate your presence, and if that means allowing racist memes into your community, then just know that people may start to believe that it’s a group with racist values. It sounds like a lot of responsibility; I’m very aware of that. Using that responsibility with tact is what will make your presence shine brighter, and continue to draw more people into the community that you’ve worked hard to build.