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‘Jamal Did It’: The questionable nature of Jamal memes

The 'Jamal did it' trend on TikTok serves as a reminder of the thin line between funny and the offensive.

 

Kahron Spearman

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Posted on Dec 12, 2023   Updated on Feb 22, 2024, 9:19 pm CST

In the dynamic world of social media, trends and memes can often take on a life of their own. One such phenomenon is the “Jamal did it” trend on TikTok, also known as “Jamal is innocent.” While seemingly innocuous at first glance, the Jamal meme trend sparked controversy and raised questions about its underlying implications.

Origin and viral spread

The “Jamal did it” meme initially emerged on TikTok on April 2nd, 2022, when TikTok user @rodolfo.lopez1034 posted a video using the song “You Gotta Move” by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The TikToker enacted a scenario in which KFC chicken had been stolen and the suspects were different emojis. In the end, the culprit turned out to be an innocent baby emoji with a racially insensitive name. The video set the stage for a trend that would gain significant traction.

In September 2022, TikToker @gerborg posted a video captioned, “Last one suspicious…#Jamal,” which received over 17 million views. Transforming the baby emoji’s name to Jamal and using a picture of child actor Abraham Clickscales to represent the character, @gerborg laid the foundations for a new meme template that netizens could use to satirically portray racial stereotypes.

@gerborg Last one suspicious… #jamal #fy #fyp #humor #foryou #sus ♬ You Gotta Move – Mississippi Fred McDowell

The real Jamal

The face behind the meme, actor Abraham Clinkscales, is known for his roles in films like “Boo! A Madea Halloween.” Clinkscales is much older than he was in the photograph used in Jamal memes, and is now a football player at Albany State University.

@abedaactor SMILE😏 #jamal #jamaldidit #fyp #smileforthecamera #smirk ♬ original sound – pqnkman

The controversy around Jamal memes

The controversy surrounding Jamal memes has to do with the meme’s racial undertones. The trend often presents Jamal, a young Black boy, as the culprit in various fictional crimes after listing a series of non-black characters as suspects. This has led to accusations of racism and the perpetuation of stereotypes with some TikTokers, like the now-defunct account @lesbiandis4ster, criticizing the trend for its racially insensitive nature.

@onesize_store What do you think who took him? #sneaker #trend #whodidit #jordans #jamal #jamaldidit #shaddowbanned ♬ You Gotta Move – Mississippi Fred McDowell

The “Jamal did it” meme raises questions about the use of racial stereotypes in digital content. While some may argue that the trend is satirical, its reliance on racial profiling and stereotypes, even in a humorous context, can be harmful. It inadvertently promotes a narrative where people of color are unfairly associated with criminal activity, reinforcing long-standing societal biases.

@lr___o7 #greenscreen Jamal is innocent #blacktiktok #fyp ♬ i dont think u like black ppl – profpippy

The Jamal death hoax

Adding to the trend’s complexity, a Jamal death hoax surfaced in October 2022, further entangling the meme in controversy and highlighting the often unpredictable nature of internet culture.

@logangamerfuze #onthisday #jamal #wasitjamal #jamaldidit #fyp #fup #fupofficial #fyp #watermelon #chicken #kfc ♬ You Gotta Move – Mississippi Fred McDowell

Reflection on social media responsibility

The “Jamal did it” trend underscores the need for greater responsibility and awareness of the kind of content shared on social media platforms. While memes and trends are an integral part of digital culture, it is crucial to consider the messages they propagate, especially when they touch on sensitive issues like race.

@jamalinnocent2 Jamal n'est pas net du tout ! #fyp #noir #fufu #banana #monkey #jamal ♬ original sound – Lolz • Friends

The “Jamal did it” trend on TikTok serves as a reminder of the thin line between funny and the offensive. While it has brought laughter to many, its controversial nature calls for online users to reflect on the content they consume and share. As digital citizens, it’s essential to be mindful of the underlying messages and potential stereotypes that popular trends can perpetuate, ensuring that our online interactions are respectful and considerate of all communities.

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*First Published: Dec 12, 2023, 8:00 am CST