I forced myself to go to sleep at a decent hour last night. I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since Mike Brown’s lids had closed forever—every waking moment since his last spent refreshing screens and consuming information and caffeine in likely dangerous quantities. A complete abandonment of any kind of long-form writing occurred; my words, angry and erratic, were quickly shot off via Twitter and Tumblr.
I’m still angry—for the obvious reasons. I’m angry that black life is worthless to people who are not black in America (and to some who are). I’m angry that Americans believe that we deserve the inequality heaped upon us for the crime of simply being black. The murder. The harassment. The silencing. The erasure. The blackballing. The punishment. I’m mad that many Americans still view black people as solely an inexhaustible resource to exploit, leeching from black communities and black cultures while promoting anti-blackness and purporting to speak for while speaking over black people.
But for the first time in a very long time I am also grateful. Because for all the comparisons between Ferguson and Selma, Ferguson is very different. Technology has provided black people the ability to burrow past the mainstream media and allow for black people to have a voice. And that voice is strong and unfiltered on Twitter and on Tumblr and in personal journals. And yes, the voice contradicts itself because black people are not a monolith and have a beautiful and infuriating and brilliant array of ideas.
We have never had a situation where black voices could not be crushed or warped beyond their meaning before. The television stations are owned by white people. The movie studios are owned by white people. The newspapers are owned by white people. The music labels are owned by white people. The radio stations are owned by white people. The publishing houses are owned by white people. They are owned by those who have been taught that black life and black cultures are worthless. And their teachings show in their word choice. It shows in the promotion and overexposure of negative depictions of black people. It shows in the dearth of positive voices. It shows in the selection of only black employees and clients who will mimic the tropes regarding black people that they have come to hold dear—the big black buck, the Jezebel, the tragic mulatto, the Sapphire, the Mammy, the minstrel—or it shows in the selection of no black people at all.
And for a very long time? It worked, churning out anti-black propaganda for centuries like a well-oiled machine, with black people having little recourse to combat it because we owned next to nothing. We stood on soap boxes, screaming to anyone who would listen that we were human and of worth, while those who opposed us controlled screens and airwaves across the nation.
That is thankfully no longer the situation we find ourselves in. When the mainstream media erroneously claimed black looters had taken control of Ferguson last night, black people were able to effectively use modern technology—affordable to most Americans—to show young black people protecting stores, not looting them. Pictures of black men using their own bodies as barriers with police nowhere in sight or on site to provide assistance, popped up across Twitter, gaining power with each reblog, barreling into the public consciousness. While Fox News is able to alter reality for a segment of old, technology-averse people salivating for tales of the black savage, their children and grandchildren are pulling up apps to hear directly from black men themselves. That is new and so very necessary.
And it is not just the news that affordable technology has altered. Black art is now able to reach the masses in an unfiltered state via online organizations such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allowing black creators to obtain the funds necessary to compete with the output of major publishing houses and movie studios that shun or subvert them. Square allows creators to sell directly to the people. WordPress and Tumblr allow black writers to reach an international audience in seconds. The means of distribution are no longer solely owned by white people; black art cannot be papered over mere moments after its creation. The mainstream media will most certainly continue to attempt to drown out or alter black voices, but those voices have been amplified by technology and sharpened by fury and determination. The task won’t be nearly as easy.
And I’m glad.