How I Became the Poster Child for Swedish Families Living with HIV — And Why You Should Rethink Your Selfies

by Jerry Jones on March 26, 2018

Someone recently pointed out that our picture pops up on a Google search for “blended family” (just a few spots behind the Brady Bunch).

 

 

 

That was a pretty cool moment.

I felt a little famous. Like the internet finally found out about the Joneses.

 

Then some more friends passed this little gem on to us.

 

 

 

Our picture had been consentlessly chosen to help people “reflect” on adoption and “how that decision might impact your life and the lives of those around you.”

Sweet.

I think “flattered” is probably the word that best described me at that point. Not only were we showing up on Google’s front page but someone, somewhere out there in Arkansas Cyberland went looking for photos to represent adoption and they chose us.

I love that.

I mean look at us. We scream adoption. Right?

It made up for at least half of the horrible, “picked last” moments from 5th grade gym class.

 

Then came this one.

 

 

 

 

Umm. Ok.

I suppose technically we’re not ACTUALLY “foreign-born step parents” and these are not ACTUALLY our “stepchildren” but hey . . . semantics, right?

That’s how it works in the modeling world . . . even though technically we weren’t ACTUALLY models and this is just our family photo that we received ZERO compensation for.

Semantics.

Right?

I was curious.

So I dragged our photo into the Google search bar (you can do that).

And this is what I found.

 

We were also the poster child for Marriage and Family Counseling.

 

 

AND “Cooperation during the holidays” (for “blended families” because it’s different for us than the “normal” families).

 

AND “Intensive In-Home Counseling”

 

 

And quotable quotes . . . about blended families.

 

 

And maybe my favorite . . . We represent the happiest, blended family in all of Sweden living with HIV.

I mean look at us.

We don’t even seem phased.

 

 

I sought the wise counsel of my friends and got a wide range of reactions.

 

“You can send them a take down notice.”

“You should get paid for that.”

“That is a violation of privacy.”

“That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

I found myself swinging back and forth on the whole spectrum.

 

Flattered and violated.

Laughing and frustrated.

Ready to call a lawyer . . . or maybe just write a blog post.

 

And then TWO things happened.

 

ONE: I stumbled across this one.

 

 

Now we had become the “Not Safe for Work” representatives for in-vitro fertilization, sperm switching in which shocked, white mothers gave birth to the children of (and I quote) “random Negros.”

Wow.

Before I vent I should mention — this webpage is a discussion forum. I’ve shown you the first bit and intentionally cut out the rest.

 

So you can see that they cropped my daughter out of the picture (because she didn’t fit the story).

But you can’t see the bit where they repeatedly use the “N-Word” about my son.

Or the part where they say “look how happy the whore is.”

Or the part where they say “Just f•••ing imagine having to resort to artificial insemination due to medical problems and your baby comes out as a f•••ing disgusting mongrel.”

 

Let me be clear — I don’t feel for a moment like this is about my family. These people don’t know us and the sickness in their hearts is not directed at us. They are idiots. Twisted, broken, sick, sick fools leaning on the misguided strength of perceived anonymity.

 

But DON’T EVER call my son a n**ger.

And DON’T EVER call my wife a whore.

And if you’re going to use my picture without my permission then DON’T crop it to fit your sick, selfish agenda.

That’s MY picture. NOT YOURS!!

I’m done venting now.

 

Curious about the second thing that happened? Here it is.

 

As I vented sarcastically via social media about our new found fame and violated personal space. Marilyn Gardener, the brilliantly, humble matriarch of alifeoverseas.com dropped this bomb (which ironically, I use here without permission).

 

 

Boom.

Wow.

I have to admit . . . In my self-centric rant, it hadn’t crossed my mind . . . but challenge accepted.

 

For a brief moment, I got a tiny taste of what it is like to be dehumanized. It was genuinely non-threatening and non-fearful but it in a small way I felt exploited.

Cheapened.

Used.

 

My entitlement swelled.

My “How Dare You” was ticked.

My Westerness roared.

 

Because somewhere, someone treated me as less than human.

Not real.

Just stock.

 

“Sobering” is the right word and so I’ll offer this challenge (but I’ll do it without shaming).

 

Please. See people as people. Even the people in your pictures. 

 

Don’t make them a poster child for something you don’t know they believe in.

Don’t wrap them around your agenda without their consent.

Don’t force them to represent something they don’t.

Don’t tell the story first and then find the picture.

Don’t degrade, demean, dismiss or devalue.

Look at pictures . . . and see people.

Look at people . . . and fall in love.

 

Here’s the “non-shaming” part.

 

If you’re like me you’re scanning your brain for the times that you have done EXACTLY this.

 

Overseas selfie.

“Look at me — I’m helping poverty.”

Grab a photo from Google.

 

What if instead of feeling guilty.

Or getting defensive.

Or making excuses.

 

You just said, “yeah, we’re all kind of figuring this out as we go?”

 

“But something needs to change.”

 

And then you stopped and pondered what you might do differently.

 

That’s a big step.

 

No pressure — but the world would be better if you took it.

 

Here are some resources for the pondering.

 

Woman’s Instagram Post About Kenyan Child Ignites Fury

How to Get More Likes on Social Media

How to Communicate to the World

White Savior Barbie is Here to Save Africa, One Selfie at a Time

The Problem With Africa Selfies

Serving Overseas? 3 Kinds of Selfies You Should Never Take

 

Thoughts?

 

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About Jerry Jones

Jerry lives in China with his beautiful blended family. He is a trainer, a speaker, an adventurer, a culture vulture and an avid people watcher. He writes about all of that at www.thecultureblend.com

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