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tea lizard meme
Kermit the frog – aka the tea lizardVia Twitter

Your guide to the culturally appropriative tea lizard meme

A US TV show mistakenly called Kermit The Frog a ‘#tealizard’ on Tuesday, sparking outrage across social media

Who, and what, is Kermit the Frog? Despite the name, it seems like many of us still aren’t quite sure. The fabric muppet, known mostly for his nasal intonations and pig wife, has been a prominent part of children’s television for more than 60 years – yet who he actually is remains shrouded in mystery. If Wikipedia is to be believed, he’s one of 2,353 Mississippi-born frogs, who made it big in Hollywood after a “passing agent” saw his potential. But what if this is all a huge lie?

According to Good Morning America (GMA), it could well be. The TV show went viral on Tuesday after posting a picture of Kermit drinking a Lipton ice tea to their Twitter account. Only the caption wasn’t quite what you’d expect. Instead of ‘#kermit’ or ‘#kermitthefrog’, the show opted for ‘#tealizard’ – debunking Kermit’s name and race in one massively misguided swoop.

The internet was, as you can imagine, completely furious about the error.

Others, though, were more welcoming about the mistake, with some even agreeing with the tweet. Kermit the Frog is green, after all – and was apparently described as a “lizard-like” creature by Jim Henson on his 1955 debut TV appearance.

Obviously, it didn’t take long for this debate to descend into something much darker, because the internet. Much like this month’s transphobic garlic bread, #tealizard quickly became a meme of mammoth proportions, with many starting to see it as a symbol of “cultural appropriation” and “black erasure”. 

Apparently, the #tealizard image used in the GMA tweet was derived from a very popular 2014 meme, in which Kermit the Frog sips tea with the words “but that’s none of my business”. According to Fusion writer Charles Pulliam-Moore – and many other frustrated tweeters – that original meme came from the “black Twitter community”, and was yet another example of the “whitewashing” of online comedy.

“Much like ‘woke’ and ‘fleek’ before it, ‘But That’s None Of My Business’ went on to become a standard part of social media parlance while its black creator(s) went largely uncredited, unrecognised, and unthanked,” explained Pulliam-Moore in a follow-up thinkpiece. “That’s what made GMA’s (purposefully) weird choice of #TeaLizard so offensive to some people on Twitter. GMA knows who Kermit is, they just stripped his famous meme of its connection to black people.”

Others also weighed in, with writer Hunter Harris claiming that the meme was rooted in Black Twitter's queer and female communities, and that GMA’s social media editors had made a “clumsy attempt” to capitalise on it. “Memes aren’t exactly the most important fault lines for discussions about cultural appropriation, but instances like these are examples of inside jokes being mined for street cred as the cultures that created them are ignored,” she concluded.

Whether or not the US morning show intended to make the error (some reports say that it was actually a publicity plug), the social team did eventually release an official apology. “Twitter has spoken,” they wrote several hours later. “Sorry @KermitTheFrog.”