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Every day uncovers something new, and today it’s all about the chirping sound of smoke detectors. It might sound a bit odd, but stay with us…

Revolver recently reported an affirmative action story from New York. Back in the 90s, a good number of minority teachers lost their licenses because they couldn’t pass a standard state teaching test. Now, they’re raking in millions in compensation. The reason? White teachers did significantly better, so obviously, the test must be racist, right?


A 2022 news story that initially went unnoticed has resurfaced and is now gaining widespread attention. It is sadly reflective of the issues we’re currently facing in the U.S. Back in 1996, many teachers, predominantly minorities, failed a standardized licensing test covering common academic subjects like reading, writing, math, and history. Interestingly, white teachers had notably better performances. Come 2022, the city decided to compensate these teachers who didn’t pass, reasoning that the test was racially biased and had detrimental impacts on their lives.

This was Richard Hanania’s original tweet on the topic:

One of the recipients of that massive payout is a former teacher named Herman Grim. He recently sat for an interview to discuss his payout, and while he spoke, his smoke detector oddly chirped several times.

Lots of folks in the comments were curiously drawn to the beeping of the smoke detectors. So much that we at Revolver decided to dig a bit deeper into this ‘chirping noise.’ And what we found out about this little noise is quite alarming (pun intended). The folks at Know Your Meme explained it very thoroughly:

Smoke Detector Beeping and Smoke Detector Chirping refers to memes about people not changing batteries in smoke detectors in their homes once they start emitting a repeating beeping signal to indicate that they may not function properly due to low battery charge. In early 2020s, the unwillingness to change batteries in smoke detectors became a stereotype associated with Black people, prompted by a viral TikTok and a series of viral posts on Twitter.

The meme of the chirping smoke detector centers around urban poverty.

The sound of smoke detector emitting a chirping sound has been associated with urban poverty at least since 2013. On March 11th, 2013, Caroline Center made a blog post “The Sound of Urban Poverty” about visiting the homes of urban poor and always hearing the sound of a smoke detector whose batteries need replacing (extract shown below).


Apparently, this has been a running meme since the 2010s.

The perceived notion that it’s a common occurrence among Black people to ignore the need to replace batteries in their smoke detector has been gaining traction online since at least early 2020s. For example, on February 27th, 2020, Twitter user @Rose_Cranberry made a tweet urging Black people to change batteries in their smoke detectors

On December 18th, 2022, TikToker[6] @damedamian posted a humorous video comparing white people and Black people “chilling in their house,” with the only difference being a single chirp of a smoke detector in the background during the second part.


♬ original sound – Damian

The Know Your Meme piece goes on to explain how back on April 12th, 2023, Twitter[10] user @harleybaghdad made a tweet about constantly hearing the smoke detector low battery signal in Instagram reels and TikTok videos.

cam @harleybaghdad One of the most disturbing revelations of TikTok and instagram reels for me is that millions of people live their lives with a smoke detecter in their home that beeps every 30 seconds due to low battery. And these people think this is normal, it doesn't bother them whatsoever 3:49 PM · Apr 12, 2023 · 435.9K Views

Starting in May 2023, multiple memes based on the stereotype that Black Americans ignore the beeping of smoke detectors were shared on 4chan

Dissident Dalmatian @Spottedcanine "Yesterday the fire alarm started chirping. I just changed the battery. No big deal." 1:04 PM . May 7, 2023 86.1K Views . 13 WHAM


This problem came to the attention of teachers in D.C.-area schools during Covid because they heard the distracting sound so often during Zoomer classes. The teachers actually contacted the fire department for help. The fire department started a public outreach campaign.

ABC 20

A Westview Elementary School teacher picked up smoke alarms for her students’ families after hearing a slight beeping in the background of her Zoom classes.

The Unit 4 Community School District teacher, who wants to remain anonymous, says she gets a unique view into a student’s home life since the schools have switched to using Zoom.

She says hearing the beeping in the background was a safety concern.

“I made phone calls to families, first inquiring if they heard the beeping teachers were noticing, just to ensure it wasn’t a computer audio feedback issue,” the teacher said. “Then, if they did hear the beep, talk about what it might be and if it was the smoke alarm, they were offered alarms donated from the fire department.”

Sadly, it seems to go beyond just a “smoke detector” problem. It’s more about a significant number of folks struggling to manage their own well-being and that of their families. And there’s a serious consequence to this level of neglect: it’s the tragic outcome of failing to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. People are dying, unnecessarily.

Clearly, this kind of mindset, where you either don’t notice, don’t give a hoot, or (even worse) struggle to understand what’s happening around you is about much more than just personal laziness. It’s a sign of a bigger problem that’s been plaguing some communities for generations and belies a much more serious problem whereby millions struggle to piece together the link between cause and effect, others don’t have the agency or take the initiative to improve their own lives by making simple fixes, and still others don’t care enough to improve their lot. In today’s climate, if you so much as hint at this, you’re quickly labeled a “racist.” This tactic conveniently allows shady community and political leaders to keep those less adept at problem-solving under their thumb.