The Fine Line Between Awareness and Exploitation

Alton Sterling is another name that we’re adding to the ever-expanding list of people of color gunned down by law enforcement. Gun violence is at an all-time high these days (as are bombings across the globe). I could speak for many by saying that this is something that we are tired of hearing about, but I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I’m not only tired, but infuriated that this keeps happening. But it’s not enough to be angry, we must do something.

We use hashtags to raise awareness. That’s “nice”, but it’s not enough. Some people  have taken to using their video technology and cell phones to document these attacks. They are not incidents, they are attacks—make no mistake about it. In the world of systemic racism and inequity, there are no accidents. These are all calculated moves to keep us down. We must show them that we will not be kept down. Our freedom is directly tied to how often and loudly we voice our issues, and how well we work together in order to pursue justice.

Even in this age of technology, video recordings aren’t enough to give us our freedom, or to bring about justice. Time and time again, video evidence is not enough to prove the injustice. Then what exactly is enough to prove that this is real? That our lives are being stolen day in and day out and on film is not enough to prove that this is a real problem. Seeing is supposed to be believing, yet there are many people who still don’t believe that this is a serious problem. In a lot of ways, technology is hurting us more than it is helping us.

As a nation, we love technology. In fact, we are obsessed with it. We pour billions of dollars into startups for yet another startup company that’s only interest is in making another app that we don’t need. We’re not investing in people, and in communities that need the money more. We’re okay renting out fancy buildings in Silicon Valley to people who already have the resources and capital to achieve their dreams, even if their dreams don’t better the lives of the people around them. We are happy to invest in gyms and fancy dining for the elite, but we can’t get playgrounds and afterschool programs for children who need a safer place to stay after school. We can pay money to sponsor technology conferences where they talk about making a difference, but can’t pay for books for children and stipends for mentors and community members who take time out of their days to guide our children. We can pay bloated salaries for elite workers who can afford two million dollars homes in warm climates, but we can’t invest in transportation, safe housing, and healthier food options in our more distressed communities. Their answers don’t call for investments in the community, only to police the ones that exist.

We can pay for advertisements that tell us what we should want, but not what we should need. We highlight media that doesn’t speak to our self-worth, power, and strength, but it’s okay to have yet another reality show so that we can get more coins. These means don’t serve to encourage us or uplift us, but just to squeeze the last dime out of us at the expense of our societal value.

We invest in everything that doesn’t have to do with people and everything that has to do with things. And when we choose to invest in people, it’s always the people who have more than anyone else, but the ones who don’t have what they need to succeed are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it work.

They are supposed to make it work even though they can barely get to school on time because transportation isn’t a reliable option where they live. They are supposed to be mentored and watched over by people who have to work multiple jobs just to be able to put food on the table, and it may not always be the  healthiest food. They are expected to excel in school when learning disabilities are mistaken for a lack of discipline, and they are put into under-funded special education classes that don’t always give every child the resources that they need to succeed. They are expected to always be adequately dressed and have extra money for school supplies and class trips that are meant to enrich. They are expected to stay at home alone while their parent(s) works to afford the basics and not succumb to payday loans and jobs that have no benefits and cut hours. They are expected to borrow money from banks when they wouldn’t qualify for a credit card. They are expected to borrow against a house that they don’t even own just to pay tuition. They are supposed to work against a system that is actively working against them, and still win. They are supposed to stand up and win with fistfuls of dollar bills in their hands as the realization of the ever-elusive American dream. But that is not what happens.

What happens is that we put our lives on the line, and on film. We believe that it will be a tool in gaining justice and reestablishing freedom on our terms. But too often, it is used against us. We film in order to provide proof that it is happening to us—to ALL of us. We offer it to law enforcement and the media to make sure that we have a vehicle to show what has happened to us. But what happens is that the media takes it to exploit us. They put our darkest moments on display not as a way to help us claim justice, but as a way to show us that they still have power over our lives. We watch our own being brutalized, tortured, and killed, and then we are forced to rewatch it for the rest of our days. It’s a new form of torture to witness and relive the horror that happens to us. Adding insult to injury, the media digs and digs like a glorified tabloid, looking for any image, incident, or occurrence that will imply that we deserved what happened to us. It is their justification for inaction. It is their excuse for not working to dismantle the systems that oppress us.

Our lives are not valued enough in the eyes of the people who support the status quo. We are pulled and pushed time and time again. We’re expected not to fight back and to accept pittances that are given to us. They won’t give us us free. Our freedom, like Jesse Williams said, is conditional. As long as we don’t act too free, we can live. Thriving is not an option that is given, only survival.

Despite what the media wants us to believe, Black Lives Matter.

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