When The Destruction of Black Bodies Become An Exhibit

Malaysia Hammond places flowers at a memorial mural for George Floyd in Minneapolis on Sunday. Police brutality has sparked days of civil unrest.
JOHN MINCHILLO / AP

I can remember watching a video about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina becoming a spectator’s sport of pain via hurricane tours. I didn’t completely understand. Of course, people want to fully assess the damage that happened. I did too. Even though I attended college in New Orleans, the lower 9th (nor the West Bank) wasn’t a location I traveled to often. Almost everything in New Orleans fell between Uptown and the French Quarter, at least for me. Even living through the devastation of a hurricane, I still have never experienced that amount of devastation in my life, personally. So, knowing my curiosity, I didn’t see the big deal of a “hurricane tour.” However, after watching the devastation of Black bodies being destroyed in the streets via cellphone videos, I now understand. It’s one thing to tour the destruction of things – physical homes. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to see the destruction of Black of spiritual homes – Black bodies.

From articles I read to documentaries I watch, I’ve tried to avoid seeing people at their last moments when that moment is egregious and disruptive. Lives should be remembered for more than 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I know I don’t want my face to become a symbol of anguish and racism screen-printed on a t-shirt as a victim of racism. Yet, I also know that the symbol of destructed Black bodies due to racism can be a revolting jolt for white people who live life in a panacea of “color-blindness.”

Nevertheless, this story isn’t new. Emmitt Till became the prominent face of lynching in the 50s. A young boy beaten to death by adults possessed with the spirit of white supremacy. His mother wanted the world to see her son, “Let the people see what they did to my boy.” Throughout the Civil Rights era, we saw Black bodies hosed down and beaten up by those who were sworn to protect and to serve. It was this display of pain and destruction that jolted white people into action and pushed Lyndon B. Johnson to battle the “elected” political terrorists known as the Dixiecrats. But at what cost? Really, what is a Black body worth in America today? Is it really $20? Is it really the cost of a taser? Is it worth a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea? Is it even worth the fraudulent millions raised off of the gawking and exploitation of what has become its own media genre – tragedy porn?

I always joked that if I die, don’t put me on a shirt in those ghetto ass cumulus clouds. But it makes me wonder. What if my life was taken away by state-sanctioned violence? Would I want my death to be void of justice? No. But would I want my life to be summed up into the last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of my entire existence? America is racist. Yes. But it shouldn’t take another exhibition of a brutalized Black body for America to realize it.