Hyper-visibility Will Not Liberate Us

In the summer of 2020, amidst a pandemic, a Black man by the name of George Floyd was brutally murdered by a Minneapolis, Minnesota officer. The lynching was documented on camera as the officer suffocated Floyd with his knee for almost 9 minutes. The video was posted on social media and would soon spark protests and riots around the globe demanding justice and the dismantlement of racism. Demands for reforms to the justice system grew louder as people became more aware that state violence would have to be abolished through systematic changes.

Such demands were further amplified with the use of social media. As users are more often on their devices and social platforms during the pandemic, the circulation of infographics about “anti-racism” and how to be a better “ally” towards Black people was at an all-time high. And with the 2020 election nearing that would place liberals’ worst enemy Donald Trump out of office, the justified anger amongst people across America drove more and more people to the streets.

It seems that the violence perpetrated by the state is at once being highlighted and we’re now more visible than ever. It is considered a defining movement in a year full of catastrophic events, but this (hyper)visibility of such violence has led to very little if not zero change in the material conditions of Black Americans and even Black people outside of the United States. Our oppression has been merely reformed and our movements and demands have been co-opted to meet the neo-liberal political agenda that ultimately won’t liberate us.

During the summer we’ve seen demands to abolish the police turn into demands to defund the police as a softer reform. A number of big businesses and corporations across the globe expressed their solidarity with the BLM movement, ironic because of the intrinsically anti-black nature of capitalism. Additionally, platforms like Twitter and YouTube joined the empty gestures despite being infamously known for not taking down and censoring racist content. Influencers and white photographers on these same platforms and Instagram became careerist by snapping photographs at protests while Black people were brutally beaten and tear-gassed by the police.

It is because of this co-option that we see leaders of the white supremacist country, the USA, like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris emit empty statements about the issue of systemic racism. This country was built on the backs and blood of Black people and the violence subjected upon us has only changed forms, not disappeared. Biden and Harris uttering messages about the problem of systemic racism and upholding it by legitimizing this racist country is the result of the co-option of movements given hypervisibility. We’re further shamed into voting for anti-Black leaders, ex-”top cops” like Kamala Harris, and politicians that sign bills disproportionately harming Black people all in the name of preserving democracy that’s never existed for Black Americans in the first place.

Another byproduct of this hyper-visibility is further anti-black sentiments from nonBlack people. The attention that our movement received in the summer is often interpreted as progress. That is far from the truth as Black people are still dying and being traumatized from the material ways anti-blackness manifest itself. Online and offline, our movements are being compared to nonBlack people’s movements for justice, often coupled with anti-black sentiments. We Black people are then expected to disregard this and stand in solidarity to fight our one common enemy: white supremacy. Anti-Blackness from other minority groups does not dismantle white supremacy, it only further upholds it.

Black people killed at the hands of the state are then turned into martyrs and hustled by these same people and even within our community. We see both nonblack and Black celebrity “activists” like Shaun King, Tamika Mallory, and Patrisse Cullors garner book and television deals and become prosperous while making a name for themselves through “activism”. Meanwhile, the mothers of those killed by the police are still demanding justice, and money raised in their children’s name has not been allocated to the families. As our struggle becomes more visible, we’re plastered onto headlines and deaths are merely used for profit.

The hyper-visibility of Black people in a negrophilic manner also harms us. It is important to know that just because we’re present across every media and there seems to be a vast “appreciation” for our culture (our music, fashions, slang) doesn’t mean that we are deemed to be human. Gone With the Wind is considered to be a milestone in cinematic history as it is the first film a Black person won an Oscar for, but it is crucial to note that the portrayal of Black women in the film is one of the most stereotypical: the mammy rooted in “strong Black women” tropes. There are several other stereotypical images of Black people used in the media like the jezebel that is rooted in the fetishization of Black women, the welfare queen, the sapphire, the savage, Jim Crow, and Sambo. These stereotypical images are all dehumanizations of Black people, some even rooted in negrophilia, that rob us of our self-determination and freedom as individuals, a key consequence of hypervisibility

Hyber-visibility reaps no benefits. As we see Black people across almost every media and our movements being acknowledged, our material conditions have hardly changed and anti-blackness is still very much prevalent. Black people and our struggles are still subject to harassment and monetization by the same forces that oppress us. It is not until the abolition of antiblackness that we will see the end of this vicious cycle of co-option and reform.