AGAINST RACISM COVER IMAGES: A.E. Garrison
On May 25th, 2020, Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on a sidewalk outside a gas station. While Mr. Floyd cried out – “I can’t breathe!” – Officer Chauvin used his knee to crush his airway. As the weight of his (and two other officers’) knees pinned him to the ground, for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, he slowly suffocated, lost consciousness, and died. Multiple bystanders took videos that pulsed across the internet, sparking protests around the world that continue currently.
“A Toppling” was inspired by protests expanding exposure of racist, White Supremacist, glorifications of the past, manifested through commemorative statues around the world.
I highlight the movement as one driven by young people (symbolized by the shocks of pink and blue hair) around the world, because this is their movement. Masks cover their faces, a sign of a crisis within a crisis. Young people are protesting, while maintaining as many of the guidelines for impeding the Coronavirus as are possible in protest, despite the misconceptions of their carelessness, a quality often assumed of youth.
I chose “Christopher Columbus” as a representative for White Supremacist ideologies immortalized in static, marble celebration of the violence, genocide, suffering and oppression wrought by Western civilization’s crushing force. The young people depicted serve as representatives from countries Columbus directly impacted via colonialism and creation of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade; from left to right: Jamaica, Great Britain, Ghana, the United States, Portugal, and Brazil. Each of these countries suffered under or benefited from the trade of human beings – stolen from their homes, enslaved, and forced to build some of the world’s wealthiest individuals and nations.
The silhouette on the landscape of our everyday lives, dotted with statues that demand we remember people who destroyed us – or would see us destroyed – has been established by those forces that would maintain the power clutched by White Supremacy for centuries. The toppling of these statues, including human traffickers, defeated military leaders, and government officials, represents a liberation from one tiny piece of the weight of living in a racist landscape – the reminders that there have always been those who put their knee on the necks of Black and Brown men, women, and children.
Toppling these objects recreates the public landscape, offering a panoptic of different visions. Even though some scholars’ and public officials’ feared destruction, protestors often protect those around them while they actively DEconstruct a glorified History that only belongs to a few, rather than the pride of a Public comprised of Black, Brown, White, Indigenous, queer, gay, trans, disabled, and young people. After all, who is “the public” in the 21st-Century?
I illustrate the work of toppling, focusing on young people exerting themselves to create multi-dimensional change; their fire is a culmination of shared knowledge, lived experience, and a desire for a “future” that includes them. All of them.
DEconstruction brings hope of rebuilding something better.
The figure representing the U.S. wraps a “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) flag around the head of the statue, directly confronting the world this historic figure helped create. Young people hold chains that unrest these objects, with the same energy their forbearers were forced to exert for others’ profit. Their strength will create a world that is better for all.
For 41 years the statue of Christopher Columbus stood, content on its pedestal, but the final blows of their sledgehammers will forever change the public landscape. Young people shape the world into their best hopes, they forge a future. In all ways, Summer 2020 has already changed the public landscape. This is their world: they are making it.
Assistant Professor of Sociology in Youth Studies
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, MI USA