Behind the Meme: Crediting Black Women for Their Intellectual Property

By Kiesha Bowles

My name is Kiesha Bowles. I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, and a creator. I’d also like to call myself an activist although more often than not I feel like my voice isn’t heard.

Back in July, Amandla Stenberg came under fire for addressing Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and utilizing the hashtag #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter. The internet went abuzz and a lot of people didn’t understand the point that Amandla was trying to make. I, however, heard her message loud and clear.

I have struggled with body dysmorphic disorder for a large portion of my life. I attribute much of that to a culture that puts entirely too much pressure on women about their physical appearances, especially Black women. After reading Amandla’s post, I became overwhelmed with a range of emotions. I was angry because it’s true that we live in a society that constantly tells us “White girls do it better.” I was sad because for a large portion of my life, “White girls do it better” is a lie that I believed. I was frustrated because there were so many people who just didn’t get it, and I was even more frustrated because I wanted to use my voice to help people understand and simply didn’t have the platform to do it.

Being a creative individual, I channeled my emotions and created a photo collage depicting the double standards in our culture when it comes to white women, Black women, and beauty. Initially I posted this photo to my personal Facebook page but I deleted it soon after when it went over my intended audience’s head. Later that afternoon, however, I posted the photo to a relevant discussion that was taking place in a Facebook group for black business owners. I used the photo to make a point and then I forgot about it until the night of September 17th when the photo resurfaced in my Facebook newsfeed; only I wasn’t the one who had shared it.

Two months after creating the photo collage, it had come back to me with over 500 Facebook shares. Curious as to where else my photo had been circulating, I popped it into Google’s reverse image search. That was when I discovered that the picture had gone viral, being shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and a handful of popular blogs. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

Obviously, I was happy that the photo was being shared because there was a message behind it that I wanted to get across. What hurt was the feeling of being stolen from. This wasn’t just a photo that I put time and effort into; this was a photo that I had poured my feelings and emotions into. It was something that was incredibly personal to me. I had created this photo collage during a time when I had a lot to say but felt invisible with no audience to say it to. Now people were hearing my message but had no clue that I was the mind behind the meme. Once again, I felt invisible and powerless to do anything about it.

The internet is an interesting place. We share a lot on the web and never really stop to think about what we’re sharing or where it came from, but every meme, every viral video, is someone else’s intellectual property. Someone took time to create these things, and we just carelessly take screenshots and repost them without giving credit or recognizing that what we’re doing is stealing. It’s something that most of us do. You just never realize how bad it actually sucks until it happens to you. On a positive note, all negative experiences can potentially be turned around for good, if you allow it, and I’ve definitely found some positive from my experience.

What I’ve learned in the hours since discovering that my photo collage has gone viral (aside from the importance of watermarking) is that my voice actually does speak more loudly than I believed. Something about that picture resonated with people enough for it to spread like wildfire. I’ll obviously be more careful in the future when sharing things online, but I also won’t hesitate, anymore, to speak out when I feel passionately about something out of fear that my voice won’t be heard.

My name is Kiesha Bowles. I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, and a creator. I’m also an activist, and I’m not hesitant to call myself that anymore because that’s what I am. I feel passionately about things, and then I use my gifts and talents to create awareness in hopes of generating change. Sometimes my messages only reach a few and, sometimes, they anonymously go viral online. Either way, I now realize that regardless of my audience size, my thoughts and opinions have value. My thoughts and opinions are worth sharing, and my thoughts and opinions shouldn’t be stifled simply because I feel like no one is listening.

Photo: Kiesha Bowles

Kiesha Bowles is an actress, writer, and homeschool mother of three. She is a performing arts student at Liberty University, and she lives in Virginia with her husband and kids. Follow her at or on Instagam and Twitter @MsKieshaNicole.

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