Whose Stories Get Told?
First we see. We are devastated. We rage. We protest. And to soothe our souls, we forget. However, we actually remember more from our past than we might realize. So it goes with every devastating tragedy. We are traumatized, and we learn from each incident.
I have grown up watching police repeatedly brutalize poor Black and Brown men in the media. Television and the media, including shows like “Cops,” which started in 1988, have spent the better part of 30 years broadcasting racist propaganda. The show harkened back to public lynchings by presenting a continual backdrop of dehumanized poor men of color without any information about crime and the material conditions of poverty. The show, and similar so-called “reality” programs, urge us to make ridiculous judgments about who deserves to be brutalized and humiliated for breaking the law. This depiction equates Black men with dangerous criminals, so that when we see them brutalized, we can easily flip the channel in our heads.
In 1991, when I was 13-years-old, the video of Los Angeles Police Department officers brutally beating Rodney King took over the media. I was stunned by the length of the beating, the corruption that protected the cops, and the lack of accountability from the trial.
I remember during the resulting Los Angeles riots of 1992, I had finished a report about the Zoot Suit Race Riots of 1948. In the barrios of LA in 1948, media coverage was escalating racial tensions between returning World War II servicemen and Chicano and Filipino youth. This was my first real exposure to how the media intentionally stokes the fires of racial tension to produce a spectacle. The military men raped and looted for days as the news coverage demonized the Chicano youth.
Today as an adult, I have learned the systemic causes of racial violence in this society are the bedrock of this country’s wealth and power. I have learned that multinational corporations own the media, and that police will continually protect profit and property over people. I have learned that our police forces have been armed and militarized in the guise of fighting a war on drugs, while our government sponsors and arms Latin American cartels. I have learned that the corruption and doubletalk of our government is shameless.
White supremacy kills us in so many ways. And the “us” isn’t just Black men. Black and Brown women are also murdered and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. The media doesn’t tell the stories of the indigenous women who vanish daily, the Black or Brown Trans kids who gets bullied until they commit suicide, or the chronically ill people who are trapped in their homes because of our toxic chemical environment.
So as people of conscience, we must tell these stories. But we must also be each other’s protectors, each other’s medicine, and hope. We must commit to creating something new in this moment, to build self-determination for our communities for the benefit of us all. The more divided we are, the more reactive and single-issue focused we are, the more this white supremacist system wins. That is unacceptable. We have suffered too much for too long. It’s time to act with all that we know to be true, for everything we love.