A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it still doesn’t lead to just indictments of killer cops

To: The Race Baiter

I’m still reading Jill Lepore’s tome “These Truths: A History of The United States.” I’m all of 24% through it and have about 31 hours left to go. It’s fascinating and devastating, in equal measure. I keep coming across quotes and circumstances from 150 or 200 years ago that feel like they were lifted from news articles or conversations that happened yesterday. The language is a little different and the racism and sexism aren’t quite as overt now, but it was all there then and it’s all here now. Similarly, the greed and the righteous claims on power and control that were evident at our founding and that were precursors to the Civil War (which is where I am in the book now) feel like they’ve followed a historical through line straight to the current machinations you the GOPP are enacting to retain power and control.

As I told you before, this is a version of American history I was never taught, that I think is fair to say precious few of us were taught – especially those of us who are White. Keeping the populace ignorant, misinformed, distracted, consumed by consuming, and self-absorbed is an awesome way to keep the gravy train going for those who can profit from the misinformation schemes and the steady supply of cheap crap we’re convinced we need. And it’s an awesome way to enable history to keep repeating itself – if we don’t really understand our current circumstances and just have a vague sense that things are off (again, I’m speaking primarily of White Americans – BIPOC people have generally not had the luxury of having their dis-ease be vague; it’s been in their faces from the get go) and if we’re spoon fed a glossy gloss that we mistake for our history, one that misdirects and conceals, then the messed up systems are safe because only a fringe few will ever question them.

Nifty. And deadly.

Last night I came to the time in history (starting in the 1830’s) when a French artist/chemist named Louis Daguerre was developing a revolutionary photographic process that ended up being called daguerreotype. The images I’ve seen that were made this way are quite gorgeous and haunting – blacks, greys, and silvers combining to depict whatever the focus was.

Well, as you can imagine, having the ability to record what was actually present without it being synthesized and interpreted by a painter (typically a White man), changed things dramatically. Lepore tells us that Frederick Douglass (remember him? you said in February 2017 that he was “being recognized more and more” as though he were still alive…..) was the most photographed person of his era. She includes a quote by Douglass wherein he essentially says that photography will be vital to elevating his people; that it will allow Blacks to be seen for who they are rather than painted and drawn by White men who exaggerate and distort their features.

When I read that, it felt like a gut punch – the through line from that statement to now is incredible. Back then, the advent of photography made it possible for Black people to have accurate likenesses of themselves made and Douglass’s hope was that this would allow their humanity to shine.

Fast forward to July, 2014 when a passerby managed to video police choke Eric Garner to death. Do you remember the recoil and horror when the video first surfaced? No, I’m sure you don’t. But much of White America was aghast that this horrible event had happened. Initially we collectively refused to connect the dots that such extra-judicial killings, such murders, had been happening all along – we just didn’t have the pictures to prove it. The hope back in 2014, 2015, 2016, and up until May 2020, was that America would finally, finally get what we’re doing to Black and brown people since we now had proof, we had the videos. We couldn’t sweep it under the rug.

Except that we could and we do.

Turns out that having the pictures, and the video, more often than not isn’t enough for many Whites to see Black people’s humanity or to motivate charges and indictments of police who kill unarmed Black people. These things are connected – and they desperately need to change.

May we all be safe from bigotry and bias.
May we all be willing to look and to see one another.
May we have the strength to make the connections we collectively need to make.
May we accept that far too many of us are subject to conditioning that kills.

Tracy Simpson

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