This is what racism looks like.
Racism is the utter lack of compassion it takes to see a mother grieving for a boy and afraid for her own sons, and think, “Wow, that would be really easy to tweak in Photoshop to make her look stupid. Wouldn’t that be funny?”
Racism is dehumanizing. Racism robs this woman of her individuality, her humanity, and her gender. Sojourner Truth spoke in 1851 on the theft of women’s agency, and was rewarded for her effort by being robbed of her own voice, with her eloquent original speech rewritten and chopped into the “Ain’t I a woman?” text found in schoolbooks. Well, this mother ain’t a woman to “The Patriot Nation.” She’s an object to be ridiculed for mistakes she never made; mistakes, in fact, that someone intentionally added to a photo of her for the purpose of mocking her grief and fear. Mistakes eerily like Soujourner Truth’s “slave dialect,” an imagined dialect into which Truth’s words were rearranged by a white woman.
Racism is someone in front of his computer whose face twists into the same mask of disgust we see in grainy old black and white films of the KKK burning schoolhouses and churches, and instead of a racial slur spilling from his curled-back lips, he sneers, “Sheeple,” or “Socialists,” or “Obamanation,” and he clicks “like” and “share” on this photo because there’s no little switch in his brain to say: “Is this right to do to a human being?” No. The filter turns off when his hate is triggered by this image. And the really scary thing is, that missing filter means he’s also missing the ability to honestly ask himself, “Am I responding this way because of this woman’s race?”
This is also what courage looks like, over there on the left.
Courage is a woman who knows damn good and well that there are people in the world who will use and abuse anything she does in the public eye to slander her, her community, and the sons on whose behalf she’s protesting.
Courage is a woman with her head held high holding a protest sign of her own making in front of a news camera. She is old enough to have three sons. Surely, she has experienced racism before. Surely, she was raised to “never ever forget [she] was born on parole,” and surely she knows that speaking for her sons means taking risks with her own image, her own safety, and her own reputation.
The cost of courage in nonviolent protest has changed. Those who march peacefully may no longer risk firehoses and police dogs’ bites (though they do risk being attacked with chemical weapons), but they now risk digital slander as impossible to remove from the Internet as unflattering photos of Beyonce.
One acute injury, one arrest, or a lifetime of being “the stupid woman with the misspelled sign” online when you KNOW damn well you can spell “sons” (and so can all of your sons, for that matter)? Dog bite, or teenage niece who gets on Facebook for the first time calling to ask why auntie doesn’t know how to spell?
I think I’d take the dog bite, personally.
Showing my work: The racist photoshopped image was found on Facebook. Use of FotoForensics validated my assumption (based on jpeg artifacts) it had been resaved repeatedly. A Google reverse image search using the photoshopped image revealed the original. I used SnagIt to create the side by side comparison here. To his credit, the friend who first shared the fake version retracted it and declared it “despicable” after being shown the original photo.
I obviously do not own the original, but I grant any and all permission to use the above comparison image for purposes related to rescuing this anonymous woman’s reputation from racist attempts to depict her in unflattering and false ways via sharing of a “meme” anywhere, in perpetuity. As an additional sidenote, if anyone knows the woman depicted, please give her a hug from me.
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