Pictures have always been a great ally in storytelling. While words can stir, inflame and inspire movements by themselves, the visceral reaction from actually seeing or visualizing what is being described can be even more commanding, especially if it’s able to be shown again and again.
The latest eruptions of anger and protests over the deaths of unarmed Black men and women being killed by police have helped activist groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) sustain widespread efforts to bring about change and seek to eliminate racism in American society. But racism isn’t always about murder; acts of disrespect and intimidation go on daily. However, there are two words having their own impact on the battle against oppression, and in a good way.
With the visual accessibility now provided by cellphones, and the worldwide reach of social media, views of racist acts are no longer few and far between. An attack, either verbal or physical, can be caught on camera, be posted immediately on various websites, and circulate in perpetuity. It may receive a couple hundred thousand views in an hour; it may get millions of repeated views.
No matter how you define it, you know why it went viral when you see it.
In recent confrontations involving a black actress/stuntwoman at a North Hollywood church, and a Mexican outdoor fruit vendor in Santa Clarita, both were victims of racial bullying — both subtle and obvious — by those who appeared clueless that what they were doing was wrong or harmful.
Fortunately for both, the eventual reactions and outcomes were positive instead of tragic. The videos taken of those confrontations had a lot to do with those positive outcomes. It also reinforced the power of “going viral.”
Actress Alex Marshall-Brown was sitting on the grass and under a tree in front of the St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, when two white male volunteers came up and hammered a “No Trespassing” sign into the tree. As Marshall-Brown shot video of the men from her cellphone, she was told by the men they put the sign up because she was sitting there. One of the men eventually turned toward her and said, “All lives matter,” even though — as Marshall-Brown points out — she never said the words “lives matter,” Black or otherwise.
Marshall-Brown posted the video on her Facebook page. Reaction was swift. While the church has a school attached to it and does have a policy against loitering within a certain radius of the school for the safety of the children, and in response to incidents of vandalism, the school’s Acting Principal Santiago Botero later told reporters that Marshall-Brown was clearly not harming any person or property, and that the staff had acted in a manner “that was racially biased.”
Church officials apologized to Marshall-Brown for the actions of the volunteers and also removed the men from those positions. Marshall-Brown also attended a service at St. Paul’s on Sunday, July 12, and spoke to the congregation. Black Lives Matter protestors were there, too, protesting the treatment of the actress from outside the church.
The vendor, who works for La Palma Fresh Fruit and wished to remain anonymous, was selling outside near the restaurant Bergie’s Bar and Grill in Santa Clarita on Sunday, July 12, when Renee McAlonis and Mike Foster — later identified as the owners — told him his stand was “illegal” and told him to leave. But Foster didn’t stop there. “This isn’t Pacoima,” he said. “It looks like [expletive]. We’re not the [expletive] ghetto. It needs to [expletive] go.” The vendor would leave after a LA County Sheriff’s deputy told him to get a permit and move to another location.
Apparently Foster didn’t realize the incident was being videoed or that his profanity-laced insults would get back to Pacoima — and everywhere else — rapidly. By Sunday afternoon the video, posted initially on Instagram, had been viewed almost 300,000 times.
An irate public pelted the restaurant with bad Yelp reviews and photo-bombed it’s now disabled business page with mocking images of the owners. And on Monday, hundreds of people lined up at the vendor’s new location on the sidewalk of the Sand Canyon Plaza to purchase fruit in a show of support.
These two incidents, the reactions to them, aren’t the only ones with happy endings. While there are still many people out there feeling enabled to treat those who don’t look like them with hate, fear and loathing, the repeated displays of their miscreant behavior on social is turning more and more of the viewing public against them.
So, tell someone to “go back where they came from.” Yell obscenities and slurs at people of color. Threaten physical harm and destruction to those in no position to defend themselves.
Just remember — somebody’s filming you. And before you know it, everybody is watching you.