Almost every single day we are exposed to images of unarmed Black men being murdered. I have felt broken on behalf of my brown brothers and sisters who are watching men, women, and children being gunned down without warrant. I wanted to write about what we can do as allies during this time. Because so many of us feel hopeless, helpless, and unsure of how to take action. It is not the responsibility of a person of color to explain this to us. To motivate us or to give us solace. It is up to us to act. And if what stops you from acting is the feeling that you don’t know what you could do that could actually help – then something I want you to consider is how to take a first step in taking care of yourself during this time.
I know you. You are a social warrior. A crusader for making change. I know you want to see justice and I know you want to spread love. And sometimes because of the privilege we have based on genetics or location, we often think we can look away during these times, especially when it’s “too much”. But I want us to consider those who can’t look away. Who can’t turn it off. Who can’t afford the privilege of dialing down their interest in this because it is their husbands, mothers, and children at stake.
So rather than looking away, I want you to look at something else.
If you spend all day on your phone and social feeds (or just if you are human), or if your career requires you to tune into social media, it’s impossible to get on Twitter lately without scrolling across a tweet with a name next to a hashtag, accompanied by #BlackLivesMatter. By now, we are painfully aware of what this means. Attached to the tweet is an autoplay video of a Black man (or woman) being fatally shot by our police force. The effects of this constant visual stimulation are traumatic; they ignite fear and a sense of helplessness. Many people then turn to social media to release their anger, fear, and even debate with others; trying to extend branches of empathy. The terrorizing snapshots showing the end of a valuable life are only half of the pain. What turns pain into trauma is the fact that likely, the murderer will walk away free of any legal accountability.
The barrage of this extremely graphic content is unhealthy for anyone’s mind, heart, and spirit. It calls us to take a step back and evaluate our own censorship around these tragedies. How do we weave through consistent media floods of tragic events in pop culture that can leave us feeling enraged and hopeless, all while protecting our minds and hearts? These events are real and we cannot simply ignore them. At the same time, we can’t bury our emotions for the sake of staying informed. We have to take care of ourselves, show love and find balance when we actually want to look away.
One solution can be found in substituting the negative images and messages in our media with more positive portrayals and narratives. Instead of completely tuning out, seek other stories instead. Bryon Summers created The We Love You Project to disarm hate and change the narrative of Black men and boys through the power of photography. The We Love You Project travels across the country to capture and share authentic portraits and stories of Black men and boys in our communities via social media. This project provides a simple, but powerful reassurance to Black boys and men: even though it feels like they are being murdered and destroyed constantly, they are still a part of a larger community that loves and supports them.
My favorite aspect of The We Love You Project is that it allows Black men to participate in creating, redefining and controlling the narrative being told about them in the present. This spreads a universal message that speaks to the power we have as media creators and consumers. By the time we see videos of unjust killings, we know it’s too late to change the narrative told by the media. Since we can’t change the content of the past, together we can create more positive content for our future.
The We Love You Project shows the world that Black men are not only human and should be treated as such but, also that they are loved. Negative images seen in mainstream media are the images that brainwash Black men and boys (and all of us) into believing there is truth behind them. But they are not worthless. They are not trash. They are someone’s son, brother, cousin, uncle, husband or father. They are human.
Taking control of your own image and representation is powerful, positive reinforcement. It creates truthful examples of who we can aspire to be and it can break a cycle of negative stereotype association. Racism is a system that was put in place long before our generation lived. But now, we have the power to control the media we consume and create, so we must protect our minds from this content to avoid living out of a dark space and keep hope alive.