There’s an art exhibit at my local art museum that features photographs from the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement in all black and white. They are beautiful, emotionally captured moments in a time in our history.
Black men with crisp white shirts and tailored suits standing arm in arm in silent protest in front of a line of armed policemen. Two water fountains: one marked “white” and the other “colored.” Firemen hosing down a crowd of protesters. A beautifully dressed black woman and a little girl standing in front of a sign that reads “Colored Entrance.” A panorama of people at the Lincoln Memorial listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the March on Washington.
These photographs speak of a time in our nation that many remember and others, like myself, have learned from. They are captivating but what these photographs don’t do is show you the bigger picture. What if we were to take the lens and move back from the narrow view? What would we see?
Would we see the many races of people including whites who stood in silent protest with those well-dressed black men, also arm in arm? Could other parts of the country be captured where blacks and whites crowded a city bus, reading side-by-side the latest news of Birmingham, Alabama’s latest protest? Or could we zoom in on that panorama of people in Washington D.C. and see the kaleidoscope of various tear-stained faces as Dr. King reiterates again and again, “I have a dream…?”
The thing about history in photographs is, although poignant memories, we don’t always see the bigger picture.
How would Ferguson, Missouri be captured in all black and white from the news today?
We might see angry protestors with signs that say “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Photographs of burned down buildings or young men smashing store windows and stealing merchandise. Black men holding signs that read “Stop Killing Us!” A mother holding a picture of her son named Michael Brown killed for reasons that motivate hatred. A young police officer who will be forever haunted by that day in history.
Then what if we again, made the lens a little wider. Would we see the community of Ferguson rallying together to pick up the aftermath from violent riots? Neighbor helping neighbor (of all colors) to rebuild their city. Would we see the photograph of 12-year-old Devonte Hart from Portland Oregon hugging a white policeman after the officer reads his “Free Hugs” sign during a Ferguson related protest? Could we view the picture of the 18-year-old unarmed white teenager who was gunned down by black officer Trevis Austin? No charges were brought against Austin while another mother holds a picture of her dead son.
I read a statement after the grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. It read, “This is America, racism lives here!”
I disagree. Racism may live in part but not in the whole of this country.
That is a very broad statement with a limited view of the country that I live in. It’s like looking only at those black and white photographs and not being able to take in the bigger picture. I am thankful for those emotional photographs in that museum. They give a snapshot of history that we should never forget. However, I refuse to live my life with only a camera-lens-limited-point-of-view. America has a much wider lens and viewing life only in black and white keeps you from seeing the beautiful world God has made. A world with a kaleidoscope of colors that celebrates people who every day look beyond the black and white, beyond the racial tension, and who proudly say, “Racism will not live here!”