The role of bearing witness has played a huge role in social change. Many escaped slaves and orators would talk of their experiences in polite middle class society, in parlour rooms in the North of America, as many had no idea what part they played in the rape, murder and brutality of Slaves.
Their blood and screams in every spoon of sugar they stirred into their afternoon cup of tea.
Likewise, Social media now plays a vital role in connecting us, informing us and in cases like the video of George Floyd’s murder, shining a light on continuing injustice. Exposing the mercurial and invisible toxic gas of racism, which surrounds us all, yet many still deny, because the law states ‘we are all free and equal’.
The streets of America are on fire, the streets of London are alive in protest and the world has finally seemed to have said “Enough is enough”, as people of all ethnicities are coming together, putting their bodies on the line literally, to try and invoke real change against racism.
And for me, the role of video evidence is vital in this fight. In the same way Abolitionists fought for the end of slavery with the testimony of runaway slaves and great orators like Frederick Douglas, who escaped slavery in Maryland and campaigned through his lectures, anti slavery writings and images to end slavery and also to gain woman’s suffrage.
Will Smith has said that “racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. Journalist Kemi Alemoru in her article this week in Gal-Dem posed an interesting question of ‘Whether sharing deaths raises awareness or has become unhealthy voyeurism’.
As well as a long history of violence, we have seen decades of brutality towards people of colour, which has led to protests and riots such as the beating of Rodney King in the 90s and more recently, to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officers on the 25th May 2020.
Many people feel that scrolling and viewing daily assaults and abuses of power for decades has done nothing to solve or fix the problem of institutional racism. Instead many argue it has lead to the dehumanising of the victims.
I can see how scrolling and viewing daily acts of violence and injustice on social media, by people of all ethnicities can leave you feeling numb, desensitised and even traumatised.
However, instead of these videos being voyeuristic and dehumanising, I feel that the new age of social media has meant that we can all now view and bear witness to irrefutable evidence of the continuing racial brutality and injustice in America and around the world.
There is no more hiding, pretending, avoiding and tuning out the violence, which is being seen on social media. The evidence of racism is now, not only in your living room but in the palm of your hand.
Once you have seen such injustice and brutality, you cannot unsee it and the next step is to admit to yourself – unless you are part of the cure, you are part of the disease of racism.
The brutality is not only meted out by those like the police who are sworn to protect us, but also everyday people in the U.S. and the UK, the ‘Karens’ who seek to weaponise the police’s inbuilt prejudice and violence against people of colour in America, who are just going about their everyday business.
Being able to see these raw clips without bias, unedited for ourselves and not through the prism of media outlets and commentators, who are run predominantly by white people. People are turning their camera phones into weapons of truth against these perpetrators of racial injustice and violence.
In the same way it’s vital that people don’t turn away and ignore the daily micro aggressions and harassment of African Americans from being arrested for using the bathroom in Starbucks, being blocked from entering their own apartment block, gym, street, to being shot while jogging like Ahmaud Artery.
Or Amy Cooper calling the police and lying about Christian Cooper (no relation) that he had threatened her life and dog. His crime? He was an African American bird watcher who had politely asked her leash her dog. She weaponised his race and knew the consequences that an encounter with the police for an African American man would have.
We have seen in the UK in April this year, the police in Manchester apologise to a black man in Fallowfield who was handcuffed and threatened with pepper spray for having dropped off food for vulnerable family members. Meanwhile elsewhere in the country thousands of white sunbathers in the park and beaches were politely ushered home even though they were breaking lockdown rules.
We have also all been outraged at the double standard of Dominic Cummings, the PM’s right hand man for breaking his lockdown, with no consequences or an apology. Just more hard to believe excuses and privilege.
The more we can all see and more importantly feel the double standards, unfairness and brutality which racism spreads and infects the better. I think it’s not enough to be horrified and upset by the images and videos we see. Then perhaps yes, these videos do become voyeurism. The cure for that and racism is to use these videos to firstly acknowledge that we have institutional racism in the UK and US.
Just because the law says we are all equal and free, it doesn’t mean this is the real case for everyone. We need to galvanise real change and not let anyone die in vain. We must honour their memory by making the world a better place – together. We should use these films as a focus for voting out politicians who won’t effect change, to donate to charities who help the cause of racial justice and to take a hard look at ourselves and our behaviour.