Please Don't Trap Maxine Waters In The Meme Matrix

Photo: David McNew/Getty.
When you google Maxine Waters, a lot of news and political websites pop up to document her latest memorable quote or strong opinion. And U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, the longest-serving Black Congresswoman, is nothing if not a woman full of strong opinions and memorable quotes. It’s because of this that the results of your "Maxine Waters" google search will also be lightly sprinkled with a couple of headlines from Mashable and TMZ.
Sure, she’s a politician, but Waters has internet star power. Her facial expressions and audacity to call a spade a spade (or a scumbag) are exemplary. Honestly, truly. Which in this day and age means that she holds pop culture capital. I recently made a similar argument about Barack Obama. What existed between the lines in my case for Barack Obama’s ability to join the ranks of pop culture’s elite was that his being Black lends itself to that end.
Means of self expression that are native to Black people often fuel the our pop culture interests. For example, there’s a new show on TV Land (focused on politics and pop culture, ironically) called Throwing Shade with two white hosts. Take a second to google the origins of throwing shade and you’ll quickly see how transferrable Black culture has become, and not just to the Kardashians. GIFs and memes may seem like a universal language, but there is a reason why few of them are as effective at capturing your mood like ones that feature NeNe Leakes and now, Maxine Waters.
Everyone seems to love Black people when they’re on our screens — on our television screens via shows like Black-ish, on our laptop screens as glamorous rappers, on our phones as memes and GIFs to express our emotions and feelings — but does that love translate into an investment in our survival and sustainability? How might using the likeness, image, and iconicity of certain Black people to do emotional labor be just as exploitative and appropriating as using our slang and wearing our hairstyles?
Rep. Maxine Waters has something really important to say. She is staunchly anti-Trump, she has a sharp analysis on what he and his affiliates might be up to, and she is already planning to boycott his joint session address. We need to listen to her instead of screengrabbing her likeness.

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series