The internet is all abuzz over Donald Glover’s release of the “This Is America” music video and if you clicked on this thinking I am about to rattle on and on about the genius behind the composition and delivery of this work, that’s not where I am about to go at all. I do recommend that you check out the amazing breakdown by Michaela N. Smith at the following link if you’re looking for a brilliant analysis.
What I am here to talk with you about are images that make us uncomfortable to the point of taking action.
We have all heard the expression at one time or another that a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures pack power in every pixel. Sometimes a picture can tell a story that not everyone is ready to see or here.
Warning: Some of the images I am about to reference may be offensive to some so use your judgement as to whether you should proceed.
There are a good many images that you will not find in American History textbooks despite the significant impact those depicted events had in shaping what we know today as the United States of America.
Lynching | Lee County, Georgia (1916)
Our nation’s legacy of lynching is a bitter pill to swallow. That doesn’t change the fact that human beings at one time were strung up in trees and hung by their necks until they died. This was often done as a method of fear and intimidation against those living at the bottom of the social hierarchy of the time. So it should not be difficult to comprehend why the image of a rope being hung over a student’s locker or left in a prominent place might carry with it the terror of those past happenings for some people.
Many would say that the American Civil Rights Movement was one of the most effective periods of “shock photography/filmography” of all time. Several images from that time tell the story of pain and progress that came out of that tumultuous time.
Emmitt Till Murder (1955)
Many historians agree that this was a significant moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. By allowing for the casket to remain open during Till’s funeral, his mother brought to an end the legacy of sweeping these tragedies under the rug out of fear for retaliation. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for her to do this when I’m sure all she really wanted to do was be left alone to grieve for her child in peace.
Little Rock Central (1957)
Years later you can still see the hatred and animosity that was hurled at the first African American students who attended Little Rock Central High School. Though Central was not the first high school to integrate after the Brown v. Board decision, it was one of the most famous.
Summer Olympic (1968)
Many forget that all three medalists protested the treatment of African Americans by their home country the U.S.A. While this act marshaled many African Americans, it also alienated many Caucasian Americans to the point of retaliation for what was perceived as a disrespectful act.
Kent State Incident (1970)
Kent State marked a frightening display of poor police work that led to the tragic murder of several student protesters.
Vietnam War (1972)
Oklahoma City Bombing (1995)
I remember the fear that shadowed my entire class when the OKC bombing occurred. We lived three hours east of where that federal building fell. No one was prepared for the world in which bomb drills would become a part of our actual reality.
“Falling Man” World Trade Center Attack (2001)
This highly controversial picture of a man falling from a high floor caused quite a stir with many people saying it should not have been taken. I remember watching people leap from windows to their deaths in real time on 9.11.2001. Those images and sounds will likely always remain a part of me.
These images are disturbing. They should disturb us to the point of doing what we have to do to right the wrongs that have been done.
Donald Glover has given us a Mirror and held it squarely to our faces. Now, it’s our turn to decide if the image is disturbing enough to move us all to action to address the wrongs Glover has laid at our feet.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.