The Anti-Defamation League recently declared that Pepe the Frog is a hate symbol.
Although the ADL wasn’t the first to make this claim, since Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has an entire page dedicated to Pepe memes, it was the first major organization to officially declare the meme a hate symbol. Pepe now joins the ADL’s Hate on Display database alongside symbols such as the nazi swastika and the confederate flag.
Pepe started off as a character in Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club comic. He later gained notoriety as a meme on 4chan when people started to post an image of Pepe saying “Feels Good Man.” This picture came from a comic in which Pepe pissed with his pants all the way down and responded to a character who confronted him about it.
The “feels good man” meme died down for a bit, but Pepe once again gained more mainstream popularity as a reaction image. Sad Pepes, smug Pepes and all different kinds of Pepes spread all over the Internet. Yet somehow, because some people made racist memes using him, we’re to believe that Pepe is now a hate symbol.
By the ADL’s own admission, Pepe is not exclusively used in this context.
“The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted. However, it was inevitable that, as the meme proliferated in on-line venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted themes.”
This logic can be applied to just about anything in the world. So what if someone made Pepe memes that included nazi or racist imagery? Does throwing a swastika on something permanently taint every future instance of that thing as a “hate symbol”?
When you throw around the concept of racism so flippantly, you take away its meaning and further empower people to engage in truly racist acts.
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See also: Is Pepe the Frog a Hate Symbol? The Anti-Defamation League Declares War on Memes – Whang!