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.
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.