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Issue 17 Out Now

In Search of Something More Than Representation

In July, Netflix announced the acquisition of several major Black sitcoms in response to global demands for more representation on screen. and I ask what is more representation when the most watched video of 2020 is a Black man being lynched on Minneapolis asphalt isn’t this already a major sitcom the way celebrities received participation ribbons for cameos at the protest a horror, the way his neck could no longer hold his head above the weight of this wicked white world a comedy the way the world then turned and told us to be peaceful an action the way knee turned to weapon, asphalt to casket, Facebook live to funeral, a drama the way his cries for his mother went unheard a sci-fi thriller, the way his cause of death has been explored

Since the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite initiative calling out the ways Black celebrities were overlooked for awards, I have wrestled immensely with the idea of representation and what its role might be in our larger struggles for liberation. On one hand, who wants to be represented in an industry that does not value our lives and all of who we are? Is there any merit in being represented in a field that was founded on stereotypical and bigoted depictions of who Black people were and how we moved through the world? What is the value, if any, in being represented on camera just for the sake of representation? How does this move us any closer to dismantling the systems of oppression that necessitate our underrepresentation in the first place? On the other hand, though, do Black stories not deserve major platforms?

I don’t know if there is a definite answer to any or all these questions. What I do know, however, is that there is something to be said about representation when every day some Black person’s murder becomes the new trending video of the week. At 12 years old, I can’t say that I remember seeing any actual footage of anyone’s murder. At 22, I have seen — intentionally and unintentionally — more murders on screen than I care to recall. Still, there are so many who demand we watch these horrific murders so we “never forget” or “see how bad it really is”. For me, though, I don’t need to watch a murder to remind myself this country was founded and is fueled on genocide. Similarly, I don’t need to see a chicken being killed to remind myself of how dinner is sometimes made. Truth is, none of us need to watch these murders. Ever. If in 2020, after 400 years of the most brutal and inhumane treatment on stolen land, why do any of us need to. Is it even possible to forget? Even if it were possible, do our bodies not subconsciously carry with us the trauma of past generations?

what does it mean for Black folk to be more represented on screen when every week a new murder is broadcast live and in action for the whole world to see See, there is nothing like a Black person on screen that’ll bring the whole world to its feet whether breathing or bloody whether real or make believe they’ll make us believe there is something magical about the way we disappear on screen.

In 20 years, I can only imagine what these videos will have done to the psyche of the younger generations whose milestone memories can likely be remembered between viral murder videos. I can only hope that someone tells them they don’t have to watch these videos to see the “real world”. Watching these triggering videos is not some badge of honor that certifies or validates one’s awareness of and commitment to social justice. These videos only confirm what we already know — or at least, should know — about this world.

I long for a day where the murders stop, where the cameras no longer reveal such painful truths about the world we live in; where more representation on camera does not mean the police simply turn their cameras on more often; a day when these videos disappear and we do not.

But one day we will write a new story. A story not based on representation but resistance
a story where the oppressed take their liberation by force a story where a Black persons murder is always followed by a riot instead of just a funeral a story where someone else finally joins in on the dying a story where we win, once and for all
And we build this world anew And we will.
Watch us baptize this world in revolutionary fire and out of its holy ashes rise up and live out the true meaning of humanity and someone, somewhere, someday will know that we were here and we dared to walk straight through the valley of the shadow of death and fight back and resist.

I am unsure if we will ever go back to a time where our lives are more remembered than our deaths. If we are not careful, the impact of these videos could be the very opposite of what folks expect. Instead of making us more aware, these videos could actually normalize murder so much that we view them as par-the-course visualizations of a reality we’d all rather wish was just a nightmare. I am afraid that instead of calling us to action, these videos will render us unmovably grief-stricken and make death much more easy of a pill to swallow.

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