Rapper J.Cole released a single last week with the photo of Michael Brown laying in the street, blood streaming from his head, as the cover art for the track. Not only was this a blatant disregard of the family’s request to the media to stop circulating the image but it was also further use of black body to send a message.
Though I’m sure his intentions were to show solidarity and speak against police brutality, the use of Michael Brown’s corpse is another example of turning a human, with a life and legacy behind them, into a message. When we share the pictures of a dead black child in order to “raise awareness” we are essentially putting our long-term goals over the individual’s humanity. We are dehumanizing the person, they are now a symbol, a sign for your revolution but they are not a person.
The usage of black bodies to get a greater point across about racial injustice is similar to the abuse and maltreatment of black bodies in movies to move the plot along. In 12 Years A Slave, there is an extremely gruesome scene where Patsy, played by Lupita N’yongo, is flogged by both Solomon Northup and Master Epps. As we watch Patsy’s flesh rip open as she takes her lashes, the point is driven home that the destruction of the black, female body is the ultimate way to gain sympathy for the slaves.
The point of this scene is to further show the inhumanity and cruelty of slavery, but the greater message of this scene is that we need to see a black body abused and beaten, yet again, in order to let folks know how bad slavery was. During a critique of the film bell hooks stated “I’m tired of the naked, raped, beaten black woman body.” The same sentiment rings true for me regarding the use of images of dead black people to prove a point about police brutality or racism or whatever other -ism you believe Michael Brown’s lifeless body is highlighting for the world.
We did not need to see the bodies of the victims of the Aurora Movie Theater Shooting to believe it was a tragedy. If that’s what it takes to get you on board, to see a black child dead in the street, are you really who we want to join our revolution?
If someone didn’t feel a need to fight on your behalf until you’re already dead and gone and laying in the street like a dog is that who you want to fight for you? Wouldn’t you want someone to fight on your behalf while you are still living and breathing, before the tragedy.
We didn’t need to see the body of Michael Brown to know that an injustice had occurred. The photos and videos could be used in a court of law but what good does it do to show him already dead, sprawled in the street? When CNN blasted Trayvon Martin’s body during the trial of George Zimmerman all I felt was sorrow for the Fulton-Martin family because their baby boy’s corpse was now a news bit for sensationalism.
Who are we really trying to prove our humanity to? White people? Government officials? Other blacks who don’t believe in the struggle? They’ve proven time and time again they do not care about us whether we’re in the grave, hanging from a tree or on our knees surrendering so how exactly does the image of a dead child going to drive the point home any more when it’s been ignored for centuries?
I understand people believe they’re spreading awareness of the harsh conditions black citizens face when dealing with the police but consider the impact of retweeting and sharing the image of Michael Brown’s body before you hit share.