This was the very first class at the UW that opened up my mind to the intricacies of identities and systemic wrongs. This class, this TA [Chandan Reddy] teaching for a single quarter, gave me the language I always felt but never knew how to artiulate. I will never forget Chandan. This class was created by Chandan after Eric Garner's killer wasn't indicted in December of 2014. This class was a product of protest, the analysis of the state's and activists' decisions throughout history. It made me cry more than once.
We were given the following prompt:
"At the start of this Quarter, I situated our class within the context of numerous marches and social protests across the U.S. against anti-black racism triggered by the unjust deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. I suggested that we think of these marches and protests as a form of 'speech.' That is, I suggested that people protest or march when they want to 'address' their fellow citizens/members of society. In this regard, we could say that these protests and marches are addressed to us as students and as persons defined by our race, gender, class and sexuality. Remember I said that I hope the course enables you to imagine what is being said to or asked of you? And I hoped it would help you imagine what kind of 'response' you might offer. For this essay, using the image above, can you describe what you imagine as the 'address' of the protesters to you? That is, if this is a demand upon us to 'see,' to 'keep one’s eyes open longer,' and/or to imagine oneself being 'seen' through the eyes of the unjust dead, what do you think you are being asked to 'see' or to see newly, differently or with longer attention? What concepts, readings, or essays from this quarter have helped you to answer this demand to 'see' and/or to imagine yourself as being 'seen' by marginalized eyes? What have you learned by the imperative to think critically, imaginatively and politically about 'seeing?' Finally, what for you has been the most eye opening?" (-TA professor, Chandan Reddy)
It’s interesting that journalists have been given the title watchdogs for centuries, but now that the job has become multifaceted with audience-generated content, the public sphere has taken up that title as well. This image has a narrative such that the dominant group is no longer the only people tracking and putting a record onto the public, but also that the public, and marginalized groups especially, is keeping track of the actions of the dominant and authoritative figures in society. Contextually, I have seen this image before and it comes from the New York City ‘Millions March,’ scheduled during ‘Santacon,’ after Eric Garner had died at the chokehold of police. Rather than unjust actions being looked over, they are being looked at very explicitly (and literally, as this sign depicts) by the marginalized.
As a critical person of state narrative and as a consumer of this image, I interpret it as stating that the very position of being passive is indeed an act and a choice of silencing, that the marginalized see the injustices happening and they, too, are watching. In the same sense, as a student, I feel like it’s requesting me to not sit back and just watch things as they unfold but rather to assist in the process of revealing those creases, making them visible. After reading Lubiano’s “Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor,” I began to see how universities are the places where social assumptions originate because, when something comes from a university, it’s seen as valid and unquestionable because it’s deemed the intelligible, dominant, privileged part of society. It’s asking us to take advantage of the positions we’re in, spreading the narrative of the marginalized and making the erased or Otherized seen. What those in the picture seem to address is primarily “do something, because if you’re not it’s still seen by us and it’s seen as choosing the side of the oppressors.”
The act of seeing is no longer a passive act as Elizabeth Alexander said. She goes on to say that “the violence that is watched, this time on television, is experienced as it were, in the bodies of the spectators who feel themselves implicated in Rodney King’s [or Eric Garner’s or Trevyon Martin’s or Mike Brown’s or Tamir Rice’s] fate” (Alexander 85). This quote can be directly applied to the image of the protesters. The eyes depicted at the front of the march, across signs, both represent watching the violence that the marginalized group, the black community in this case, are forced to indulge through media while simultaneously occupying the criticizing glare of the marginalized, directed at who is responsible for this violence. It is being critical of the state and structural narrative that invades everything, like Cacho explains happens even through photo captions. Metaphorically and literally, this photo depicts looking outward of the group, looking at those who aren’t marching or who are consuming the image, as if the eyes are looking outwards to say “you.” The image uses the same tactic as Uncle Sam but simultaneously occupies the antithesis of that.
I suppose the most surprising part of this conversation on narratives, identity, marginalization, and race has been the pervasiveness of state, structural and political narratives. I had already suspected and seen it in broadcast news media but I hadn’t quite understood how much it occupies everything. It’s not so much a deliberate choice to indulge in the state, structural and political narrative but rather that society managed to function that way and so to take part in society requires that automatic, unconscious inheritance. This is especially relevant to anyone who participates in society (which is everyone, regardless if they’re marginalized or not because in order to be heard they have to adhere to majority’s narratives). In summary, it’s relevant to everyone because everyone is defined by categories of race, gender, politics, and sexuality. This addresses everyone.
Class reads that I suggest others also read: