'If They Gunned Me Down' on Tumblr: Pressing parents to take a second look

A new Tumblr post launched in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown has raised important questions about what images might be chosen to build a story about a person's character.

Screenshot from iftheygunnedmedown,tumblr.com
An image from the Tumblr site 'If they gunned me down, what picture would they use?' which captures negatively stereotyped images of individuals next to images of those same individuals in a positive light.

In the wake of an unarmed black teen being shot to death by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, the Tumblr posting titled “If they Gunned Me Down, Which Picture Would They Use” is prompting young adults and parents to think about which images some media might cherry pick from social media accounts to represent their character.

The Abraham Lincoln quote, “If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it,” came to mind as I scanned the images on the site.

The site presses parents to consider if some media would pick the image of their own child smiling in cap and gown, or a picture right next to it of the same child, showing visible tattoos, sticking out their tongue while clad in a hoodie?

Would the photo of a boy striking a stereotypical “gangsta” pose trump that of the same young man serving in his church?

Sure, parents have to caution their kids not to post something truly compromising online.

However, at some point, they also might want to examine the fact that many people simply might want to look for the “bad pictures” in an effort to stereotype and color how others see someone.

According to multiple reports, Michael Brown, 18, was unarmed on Saturday, August 9 when a Ferguson police officer stopped him and a friend.

What happened in the next few minutes is still under debate, but in the end the unarmed black teen was shot between eight and ten times by the officer.

The case immediately blew up into a miasma of racial issues, victim blaming, riots, and protests, as well as the issue of some media’s selection of questionable images of African American victims that portray them in a negative light, over those that would show them as upstanding citizens.

“If they Gunned Me Down” is not about making people think twice about which images to post online, but rather to admonish those who think the worst of someone based on one image chosen from many, that could portray a negative stereotype. Companion tweets are on Twitter under the hashtag #ForThoseWhoHaveBeenGunnedDown.

To make their point, the site authors have published questionable images of people, in some cases making rude gestures at the camera, and in others holding alcoholic beverages, or other substances. 

These images are set in split screen with others of the same individuals in graduation robes, professional attire, hugging their children, or wearing a military uniform. 

The site brings into question what images some media outlets might select in order to attract the most readers and viewers.

One powerful example posted on the site is a pair of images of Djuan Trent of  Columbus, Georgia who is a former Miss Kentucky who went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant in 2011.

In a split screen we see her in Halloween costume as American Rapper a "Wiz Khalifa” with afro, fake tattoos on her neck, and wearing a hoodie on the left, and on the right in a polished up-do and evening gown, as an example of the disparate images available of the same person.

On her own blog, Ms. Trent writes:

“I understand that the point of the pictures was to really get people thinking about the way black people are targeted and portrayed by the media. I get that. But what I don't get is how unfair it is that we have to feel that our jeans and hoodie are any less respectable than a graduation gown, suit, dress, or uniform.”

She adds on her site, “At the end of the day, underneath the clothes, and underneath our skin, we are human and THAT is why we should be respected and treated as such.”

The site encourages us all to think about how often we may gravitate toward believing the worst about people based on how they appear in a single photo we see online.

Only two weeks ago, I hesitated posting a sweet picture of my teen son and his girlfriend, in part because she had drawn flowers on his neck in green marker (a popular practice that regularly leaves me lecturing my son about how inappropriate it may look).

Seeing the Tumblr site now makes me regret criticizing my son, especially about an innocent expression of teen love.

While it’s important to guard our online images, it’s equally important that we challenge ourselves to embrace the best images of others and not judge people by one unguarded moment captured by the camera. Then perhaps we have more hope of not being judged ourselves.

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