You Can’t Keep Denying Racism, Debra! 3 Memes That Had Everyone Talking About Social Justice in August 2021

Martin Ricard
5 min readSep 3, 2021

The world was introduced to a number of meme-worthy moments in August.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Milk Crate Challenge, you’ve probably had your mind blown by the Can You Believe It meme, and you were probably left scratching your head after hearing that the young man who was featured on Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover as a baby is now suing the band.

While those pop culture trends are sure to make the headlines on TMZ, I want to draw your attention to a different set of trends that almost broke the Internet last month.

The trends I’m talking about tactfully used social media to combat racism, keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s fight for social justice alive and speak to the culture.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest social justice moments last month and how the Internet responded in videos, memes and video games.

Student delivers masterclass on the true meaning behind the Confederate flag

Six years ago, a video filmed at a high school near Kansas City went viral because of a classroom debate about the Confederate flag.

A student named Christopher Justice was the highlight of the video because he not only eloquently explained why the Confederate flag is seen as a symbol of racism. He also explained the real meaning behind the Confederate flag and why it makes no sense for people who claim to be loyal Americans to fly it.

The clip of Justice’s verbal takedown has made the viral rounds several times since then, and it made another round this month. To date, the video has been watched 4.7 million times on Twitter.

Here’s why this video clip is so timely: It’s pretty obvious that as this country gets more multiracial, more people are trying to whitewash the past and make it seem like white people have never had a racist bone in their bodies.

We need more Christopher Justices and it’s time to stop letting people make the claim that the Confederate flag represents some long lost Southern heritage that needs to be preserved like it’s grandma’s fried chicken recipe. It’s racism, plain and simple.

Baltimore turns to memes to combat misinformation about the vaccine

This COVID-19 pandemic has been no joke.

But ever since the vaccine came out, a lot of people have been skeptical about its effectiveness and potential to make things worse. Some folks, especially young people, have even turned to online forums and hearsay to convince themselves that the government isn’t telling the whole truth about the vaccine.

That’s why the social media campaign launched by the Baltimore City Health Department, encouraging young people to get vaccinated, was so genius—and hilarious.

Since the the pandemic began, health departments throughout the country have turned to social media to reach people and urge the public to stay home and socially distance. But everyone knows a lot of people — especially young people — have been disregarding those warnings, going out to parties and doing other things they shouldn’t be doing.

These Baltimore memes are an attempt to reach young people where they’re at and debunk the vaccine myths in a language they understand.

What takes the Baltimore health department’s campaign to another level is that they took actual conversations young people were having online and then packaged them in a creative way that drew inspiration from meme culture. The memes feature people debating things like whether to go to a house party or get mimosas. They also touch upon some common misconceptions about what may help or hurt you.

Baltimore launched the memes in April, but they started gaining national attention in August after Black Twitter got a hold of the campaign.

One Twitter user who shared the images received more than 136,000 likes and 28,000 retweets.

Here’s what I took away from this meme: I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince more people to get the vaccine so we can be done with this pandemic, but I do know that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. This creative PSA has definitely brought some levity to the situation.

Fortnite invites players to watch MLK speech with new game mode

On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Decades later, his message calling for civil rights for Black people and an end to racism in the United States is still relevant.

Leading up to the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, Playstation announced that TIME magazine and Epic Games were partnering together to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King by creating a new experience inside the wildly popular game, Fortnite, to educate players about the Civil Rights Movement.

Playstation’s Twitter post announcing the immersive experience received 16,000 likes in 48 hours, according to Know Your Meme.

After the event went live, players could sign in and post their experiences on social media.

One player shared a screenshot of a bathroom where segregated sinks could be found in the game — a historical nod to the time in this country where Jim Crow laws existed and Black people weren’t allowed to use the same facilities as white people.

The event received mixed reactions.

On different social media channels, a lot of people said they were either confused by the Fortnite event or angered that the creators of the game weren’t taking enough care with Dr. King’s legacy. Dr. King’s daughter also didn’t approve of it.

Here’s what I took away from this virtual event: I’m old enough to remember that controversial Boondocks episode that depicted Dr. King promoting the McRib sandwich and using the N word. Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator, and Cartoon Network were immediately met with controversy and Al Sharpton and a bunch of other Black civil rights leaders demanded an apology.

So I wouldn’t call Fortnite’s virtual event offensive to Dr. King’s legacy. It’s just another creative way to make sure the younger generations don’t forget the importance of the Civil Rights Movement.

If I could sum up what happened last month, I would say this: You can’t cure racism with a social media post, Debra. But you sure can get people’s attention by slipping a message into a meme.



Martin Ricard

I write about social entrepreneurship and social justice. Learn how I’ve helped other mission-driven leaders succeed: