Of the many memes I have encountered in my relatively short life, I don’t think one’s mere existence has baffled me as much as that of the Damn Daniel meme.
For the five people on this planet who have managed to avoid the ‘Damn Daniel’ meme and any of its variations, let me explain. The saga began on Feb. 15, when Twitter user joshholzz tweeted a video compilation of him commenting on his friend’s fashion sense in a series of hilarious voices.
In less than 48 hours, the video received more than 16,000 likes and by the end of the week, it was impossible to walk anywhere without hearing someone scream, “Back at it again with the white Vaaaaaaans!” at the top of their lungs.
Now, I’ll be honest: I laughed the first time. Not a full-blown, doubled over laughing fit, but more of the amused guffaws you give at seeing a bunch of youngsters having a good time. Then, I was ready to bid Daniel and his Vans adieu.
The world, however, was not so ready. Corporate America lunged on the trendy new memes like broke college students on a free burrito. The two were even featured on Ellen where the eponymous Daniel received a lifetime’s supply of free Vans.
My problem isn’t with the makers of Damn Daniel. I am sure they are both pleasant boys who will benefit greatly from the opportunities their sudden rise to fame has brought them. But why does it seem to be that the creators of viral content only get some kind of backing if they happen to be white?
Take “On Fleek” for example. African American Viner Peaches Monroe coined this phrase in 2014 and it has since become a part of everyday lexicon. Major corporations like IHOP and Covergirl used it in their marketing campaigns. It was added to Dictionary.com for crying out loud!
Even Ariana Grande got in on the action, and yet to this day Kayla Newman, which is Monroe’s real name, has received no compensation for her creation.
“I gave the world a word,” Newman told The Fader. “I can’t explain the feeling. At the moment I haven’t gotten any endorsements or received any payment. I feel that I should be compensated. But I also feel that good things happen to those who wait.”
This disparity happens more often than you’d think. Grumpy Cat’s owners have spawned a whole franchise thanks to their frowning feline yet where is the money for Nicholas Fraser, the “Why you always lying” guy?
One of the more subtle benefits of white privilege is being praised for accomplishments that people of other races receive next to no credit for. Every meme mentioned so far has had its own merits, but I find it very suspect that only the ones that lead to any kind of compensation or recognition have white creators.
A significant portion of the viral memes and sayings that get passed around in our society are created by young people of color—often times black kids. People love to use AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) in everyday conversation, but when it comes time to recognize it as a viable part of American culture, there is pushback.
Don’t use the fact “These are just memes” as an excuse. In our Internet-focused age, memes are an extension of our broader culture and the ways we choose to interact with one another.
If Damn Daniel deserved a lifetime supply of Vans and modeling contracts for merely being filmed, then Kayla Newman surely deserves a scholarship and a lifetime supply of eyebrow pencils as well, among other things, for creating an entirely new word. But on a broader scale, society needs to start valuing the contributions to pop culture black creators make.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of 979501’s Pixabay Account.
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.