Capturing Racism on Camera

Capturing Racism on Camera

Historical documentation of racism in America spans both the oppressed as well as the oppressor. Typically, images of racism focus on the aftermath like Gordon Parks’ stunning color images from his Segregation series or the defacing of buildings and property with swastikas.

Less frequently, we see interaction between the two, and when we do, the images are usually of heightened drama like Bill Hudson’s images from the Birmingham campaign. Thus, for many people, racism is either an epic street conflict or mean-spirited graffiti. But for victims of racism, it’s an insidious, ever-present spectre that has been difficult to capture except anecdotally.

Manzanar concentration camp. Photo by Ansel Adams/Library of Congress

Technology has now made it possible to capture racism in the act. Similar to body cameras worn by police, we have the ability to see both bad actors as well as brave, split-second decisions made under extreme duress. For some segments of the public, the images and audio might come as a shock to their insulated sensibilities. For others, it is a reminder of unceasing and ubiquitous racism that refutes the myth of a post racial world.

The shift that has occurred in the recent past is the brazenness with which the perpetrators are willing to act out in front of the camera – literally daring the photographer to capture and post the video for all the world to see. No longer do we see hands trying to cover lenses with shouts of “turn that off!” Instead, it’s “Go ahead and post it!” Almost everyone under the age of 60 is aware of viral potential for any explosive content. Thus, to see a taunting of the camera and the operator marks a significant inflection point in behavior – I wouldn’t suspect that every racist has a deep sense of irony, but are we being trolled? And what’s worse: Being trolled into liberal outrage, or confronting a true deep-seated racism that plagues us?

And unlike a tweet or inflammatory message board comment, there is no fallback excuse of “hiding behind the computer.” These are angry people exposing their true colors in public for all the world to see without remorse.

The use of motion and audio largely eliminates misconstruing context in the way that stills can fool the viewer, or require captions. Here we find victims of racism both futilely trying to reason with their oppressors, as well as lashing out – sometimes violently – in protest. The footage is raw, frustrating, sometimes boring, but most of all, illuminating.

Racist goes on tirade after hearing man speaking to his mother in Spanish.

 

Racist calls man “spic” after he tries to offer help

 

Racist slapped in face by man after repeatedly calling him a n*gger

 

Racist goes on tirade in shopping line

 

Latina defends Muslim couple from racist

 

Drunk racist confronts Muslim family on beach

 

Unlike other genres of photography (e.g. war photography, professional sports photography), the photographic record of racism is no longer restricted to the purview of the professional. Citizens are taking an interest in documenting their own neighborhoods and lives, and camera phones and social media make it possible for marginalized stories and authentic points of view to be disseminated into our news feeds. And while photos and videos of racism won’t solve the problem, they do shed light on the pervasiveness of hate and how systemic the problem is within our country.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Andrew Molitor at 7:26 pm

    I disagree with this assertion:

    “The use of motion and audio largely eliminates misconstruing context in the way that stills can fool the viewer, or require captions.”

    Video is, to my mind, even more insidious and subject to interpretation. WItness the many indecipherable cell phone videos we have seen in which, objectively, there’s just visual and acoustic mush, and yet 1000s of internet commenters who “clearly see” police brutality, or, alternatively, justified use of force. Since it’s just mush anyways, any interpretation can be projected onto it.

    Certainly *some* videos seem to give a pretty clear indication of one thing and another, but we still suffer from the questions of “what’s outside the frame” and “what happened before/after the clip”. While it’s hard to imagine, sometimes, what could *possibly* be there that would change out understanding, I submit that we’re simply not imagining hard enough.

    This is not to suggest, of course, that there necessarily *is* something outside the frame that would upend our understanding. Usually, I dare say there is not.

    But to jump from that to “well, video basically eliminates that possibility” is wrong, and, well, dangerous.

  2. BrasilLove at 8:52 pm

    Nice going. All of you caught what is inside the racists’ minds. The videos are great. Keep up the good work.

  3. joe at 10:22 am

    Not one word about the worse racists in the USA…
    Namely the democrats and the antifa assholes.
    Come on, if you are going to have an article on racists, talk about the real racists!

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 6:37 am

      What a silly statement. There are racists everywhere, and to the point of the article, now they are caught on camera.

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