by Kevin Copp ’18
The photo that has been making the rounds on social media and in the minds of everyone who has seen it has left an indelible mark on Providence College’s campus. Unfortunately for those students involved, it will be difficult to overcome the stigma associated with such a provocative image. There are, however, lessons that can be learned and bridges that can be built.
The image could become the start of the end of PC’s run as the school with the least “Race/Class Interaction” in the country, according to a 2017 Princeton Review report, and drastically improve the way students of different races interrelate. Perhaps more immediately, people everywhere should be aware of the dangers associated with social media and the great misconceptions that stem from it.
Social media’s alluring attraction is that it essentially permits individuals to create their own identity. Someone must no longer merely be that person who speaks, looks, and acts a certain way, but they can now pick and choose the images they want to define themselves. They have the ability to select the most appealing parts of their personalities and experiences and present them to the world as though they are what their profile says they are all the time.
The platform of false impressions might not only give off the wrong idea about what people are like, but it also permits serious mistakes to be made when viewers jump to conclusions. People with different backgrounds and belief systems all have the opportunity to view the same images and draw their own separate conclusions. There is not one single inference that a viewer of an image on social media can make. The conclusion they will reach depends on innumerable factors, including what mood they are in and what they just saw as they were scrolling down.
Thus it is imperative that the viewers of social media not leap into a specific interpretation and have an excessively emotional reaction whenever they do see something they do not agree with (but might not fully understand).
Consider the details of the situation that has unfolded over the past week. A male student wearing dreadlocks, a grill, and a gold chain, had his picture taken by another student. The male student explained later that he was merely dressing up as the rapper Lil Wayne. The features of the students costume are considered acceptable by many as long as it is clear that the student is intending to be Lil Wayne.
While this might not constitute cultural appropriation for some, the costume walks a thin line between imitating a celebrity and mocking specific attributes in a way that could be interpreted as derogatory.
This gray area calls attention to the third great danger of social media: what others might say about someone. The student had no power over what others might say he was dressed as because they all were able to provide their own captions. Another student’s Snapchat gave her the power to label the student whatever she pleased, and her choice of a derogatory term set off a firestorm of response.
Social media provides anyone with an account an equal voice to be heard, a premise that seems fair and democratic but which can easily turn ugly when ignorance enters the equation.
It becomes everyone’s duty, whther they use social media or not, to be honest, cognizant, and mindful of individual differences. Without open-mindedness and respect, social media might continue to tear communities apart instead of bringing them together.