The Summer That Changed Detroit
Starting with a black and white photo that captures a white police officer powerfully holding his gun and waiting to take an action, this article focuses on the 1967 unrest in Detroit. The vignette that it begins with is particularly interesting. This riot is told by the narrative of Loretta Holmes, who was attending an unlicensed after-hours club, knows as “blind pig.” In the middle of the club, white police officers came in and arrested all the black partygoers. Right after this arrest, this place started a riot, which became a tipping point of the police brutality in Detroit.
Fifty years have passed by; however, what does the history of Detroit unrest mean to today’s residents? It is not surprising to see the discrepancy among different residents. Different perspectives can be categorized into two parts: urban and suburban residents as well as black and white residents. In the first category, it is very clear to see the unequal distribution of resources between the cities and suburbs. Most revitalizations happened in the cities, whereas the outer neighborhoods underwent a much slower change. As a result, the urban residents viewed the 1967 unrest as effective and optimistically celebrated the change that the history had mediated. On the contrary, suburban residents deemed the city and society had a long way to go. Similarly, in the category of black and white Detroiters, black residents, just as the suburban ones, viewed this history as a reminder of what society should accomplish still, whereas whites’ reflections on the riot in general only highlighted how much better things had become. On account of such ground approach, this article successfully presents the nuances on the ground level in the north and the racial complexities underneath the surface.
To me, the different perspectives by the residents display a very interesting phenomenon: the majority of black Detroiters focused on the brutalities, such as shootings and deaths, of the past years, while most whites only saw the big progression that the community in Detroit had accomplished. The completely opposite views of societal development demonstrate the fundamental racial tension in the north system. Without such nuanced examples of the ground voices, it would be easy to deduce that the good relations between black and white in the north perpetuate.
Recently, there are a lot of articles that talk about or relate to the case of Emmett Till, who was lynched and disfigured after being accused of flirting with a white woman. In the article, “Simeon Wright, Witness to Abduction of Emmett Till, Dies at 74,” Wright’s memoir of Till gives a primary source to the truth of such history. As other previous historians, most articles were trying to correct and justify the wrongful accusation, and amplify the degree of racial discrimination in the U.S. However, what I think is more important is not the defense or clarification of such unjust result, but the fact that, the white women, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who confessed that her allegation of Till’s sexual assault to her was not true.
This makes me wonder what makes Donham decide to tell the truth? Why did it take this long time for her to confess that her allegation was wrong? Does the change of her testimony justify that our society has achieved some liberal goals so that a white segregationist could recognize her fault? What if Emmett Till did not die, but put into a prison, would she still tell the truth? I think what is so valuable about her confession is not only reinforcing the accusation was wrong, but also providing evidence to the white audience that an innocent boy was killed because of their discrimination. It provides a space for the white population to ponder what had happened in the history very frankly and nakedly.
However, Donham’s claim not only gives a window for today’s society to judge the racial morality of the past, but also provides an example of a false accusation that killed an innocent person. In a more recent case, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman, Andrea Constand, at his home 14 years ago. Interestingly, his publicist compared his conviction to the plight of Emmett Till claiming that this is a “public lynching.” Such connection to the case of Till, to me, really gives me a new thought to today’s testimony. Since when are all people honest? The usage of history by the publicist, in this case, is really effective. History is a living entity. What we learn from it can be applied greatly in our daily lives.
Black Lives Matter Can’t Be Sued, Judge Tells Police Officer
This short article simply reports that a police officer brought a lawsuit against Black Lives Matter because of the injuries that the police sustained while responding to protests. Chief Judge Brian Jackson said that Black Lives Matter is a social movement, so it cannot be sued. First of all, it is very obvious to see the change that today’s society has accomplished. The social justice rules the case in a very liberal manner. What the judge said was that an individual can sue against an individual, but not a social movement. However, this makes me wonder was there any case in the history that a particular party was accused because of an individual?
If we shift gears to the black community, we can easily sense the strong activism that lies in the Black Lives Matter. However, such report again can make people easily correlate violence with black power. Such accusation against the party makes me wonder the accuracy of the lawsuit. This article says that the police officer was anonymous. Is he a white or a black American? Were the injuries that he received caused by Black Lives Matter or someone else? Even though it is obvious to see the judge’s decision is based on the nature of laws: an individual cannot sue against a social movement, the racial tension is still present. What if this is a white party? Would the white party be sued also?
On the other hand, the voice from police officers is very intriguing. In society, we often focus on the goal and accomplishment of the movement. If the police were injured during the protest, what could they do? It is almost impossible to spot an individual who hurt the police officer and sue against this person during a protest. This article amplifies the judicial decision and makes the judicial legislation seem impartial. However, it is still contentious to celebrate the decision that is in favor of Black Lives Matter or a social movement, because the voice of police officers is sidelined and the racial tension is still fundamental. This article might again reinforce the cliche that black power is associated with violence.
When I was searching some articles for my final paper, an article in New York Times caught my attention. It discusses a series of photos by a contemporary civil rights photographer, Oliver Clasper. The photos in the series titled “The Spaces We Inherit” do not mediate the turmoil, the drama, or violence what civil rights photos usually depicted in the past. Instead, these photos are “quite,” and only capture vacant places or an unmoving pose by a single character. No overt dynamics or energy was expressed. Everything in these photos becomes a landscape. To me, such composure and still scene seem to tell a story, to document a place with its history.
Surprisingly, as the photographer later mentions, these sites that he documents were “the sites of hangings, slashings or execution by gunfire.” Clasper switches the dominant depiction of visual violence to a regional and alternative approach. Subjects are no longer the victims who epitomize persisting tensions over blacks and whites. Instead, the backgrounds, the sites become the visual tool to connect the past and the present. Such images not only serve as a bridge to link our memory from what had happened and what is happening, but also blur the specificity of the sites or events, since only the mundane was included in the photos. His intention of documenting these places becomes ambiguous. Is he trying to remind the audience to remember what had happened in our history, or is he aiming to tell the ubiquity of racial discrimination and violence in the contemporary context? The conversation and question that Clasper demonstrates foreground the living and perpetual essence that the Civil Rights History possesses.
I went to Dana Schutz’s exhibition at Cleveland Museum of Art in the late January and attended the interview of Dana Schutz by Nell Painter, who is a historian and a painter. The issue they specifically discussed was associated with a particular painting, Open Casket (2016), which depicts a disfigured Emmett Till lying in the casket. Historically speaking, Emmett Till was lynched after a white woman insisted that she was offended by Till. In the conversion between Painter and Schutz and in tandem with various articles that discuss this issue, I have to acknowledge and be aware of the fundamental tension that lies in the core of the racial problem.
The problems of this painting that generate a monolithic dissent to it mainly reside in two aspects: a white woman paints a black issue, and the portrayal of a black man is abstract. Various activists went to the show and called the work to be removed, or even destroyed. Among them, Hannah Black wrote a letter to the museum, in which she argues that the painting is evidence of white insensitivity; that “a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist” cannot correctly represent white shame.
In my eyes, Hannah Black relies on the wrong notions of cultural property and generalizes the meaning of the work to cultural producers and consumers on the basis of race. This issue came back to me again when I read the interview with Judy Richardson, conducted by Emilye Crosby, during which Richardson discusses the dilemma of white women trying to get involved in the civil rights movement. Here again, the fact of Dana Schutz, a white woman, trying to demonstrate the brutal reality that happened to a black man becomes paradoxical.
In brief, the attempt by a white female cultural producer to represent racial issue through the expression of black pain should not be viewed as malicious. Instead, the effort of achieving racial equity and reciprocal comprehension by any people should be recognized not by their gender or race, but by their intentions.