A guy in Australia made a cartoon about Serena Williams.
This Serena Williams.
You know, the greatest tennis player of all-time who also happens to look like that.
But she doesn’t look like that in the cartoon. In the cartoon she’s a brute. An animal. Angry. Demonstrative. Big hair. Enormous lips. It looks like something out of the 1800s arguing for the need to control black brutality, which is the same argument the creator is making today. It’s also contrasted with two softly drawn white characters who condescend.
I’m not going to show the cartoon.
I remember when Philando Castile was murdered. His girlfriend recorded the aftermath of the shooting. She was calm because the officer was still scarily waving his gun around and making threats. Her life depended on that calm. When she finally started to lose control her four-year-old said, “Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
I’m not going to show the video.
I remember when Eric Garner was murdered. Police approached him for either selling loosies or breaking up a fight or being on a corner or existing. Remember, he said, “Every time you see me you mess with me…every time you see me you want to harass me.” He was used to being bothered and this was just another instance. An officer choked him to death.
I’m not going to show the video.
Somebody used a taser on an 11-year-old girl last week in Cincinnati. An officer punched a man on the street in Baltimore a few weeks ago. There are countless others. And there’s video of all of them.
I get it.
We can’t solve problems unless we’re willing to face them. We can’t argue against police brutality or racism or violence without addressing them. We’re angry at the fact that these things keep happening. I understand.
But I don’t need to keep seeing it.
The cartoon is awful. It makes Serena look like an out-of-control monster and that’s the entire point. But every time we retweet that thing to share our outrage it does three things.
1. It gives the talentless hack who drew it more attention and publicity. He doesn’t need it and he damn sure doesn’t deserve it.
2. It gives people who see black people that way a chance to laugh and enjoy the view. In their mind this proves that others are too sensitive and can’t take a joke and is it even inaccurate anyway? I don’t want to bring those people even a moment of joy.
3. It means there’s a chance that some black girl somewhere has to wonder if that’s how the world sees her. All our nuance and outrage might be lost on an 8-year-old looking at that photo and seeing some part of herself.
I’m the same guy who used to argue when people would say they don’t watch the news because it’s all bad and makes them sad. “It’s true. It’s the world around us. How can you avoid it just to try to be happy?” Same guy. But it feels different.
There’s just so much video and so much suffering and so much of it is…so similar. It just feels overwhelming. It’s exhausting.
At this point it should be clear that police treat some communities different than they treat others. It’s official. It’s proven. It’s verifiable. (Another post to follow on that point)
Anyone who believes this doesn’t need another video of someone being treated unfairly to prove it. Anyone who doesn’t is willfully blind and won’t accept anything short of them personally dealing with harsh treatment. One more video won’t change one more mind.
There are other areas where these verifiable facts haven’t yet taken hold.
School segregation. I’m all for video of groups of parents who pretend to be well-meaning but fight viciously to keep undesirables out of their lily-white schools. Record and shame away, please.
Gentrification and real estate segregation. I’m all for video of realtors steering people in some areas by talking about the types of people who live there. I’m all for undercover video showing leasing offices who suddenly have no more vacancies when some people come to the door. And I’ll never stop watching videos of BBQ Becky calling 911 on black people existing. It’s important to talk about the ways people who haven’t had private spaces have historically used public spaces as well as the way people desire neighborhoods for a culture and aesthetic that they change the moment they join it.
These challenges are under-reported. They deserve attention. Visual lessons are powerful. Share your charts and graphs and videos and, yes, cartoons.
But with videos of people being brutalized, terrorized and killed I think the message has been heard.
And with cartoons that make modern-day heroes look like the same old animals of the past?
It’s despicable. It’s horrific. It’s disgusting.
I’ll share in your outrage. But I’m not sharing the photo.