What happens when we rely on the media's generalizations? Sometimes, we let our stories fall under one vague tale, and individuals are forgotten, while opportunities to come together are lost. Sometimes, we forget who we're fighting for, and we don't learn their names until it's too late (rest in peace, Marcellus Andrews).
I'm forever inspired by those who tell their own tales, without waiting for someone else's words. Like Issa Rae of the brilliantly hilarious web series Awkward Black Girl, who says in Colorlines, "It’s up to us to acknowledge and combat the stereotypes because mainstream media just don’t care." And poets like Ai, telling the stories of those who appear in the media without faces or names, but who have always had voices, in spite of the silence around them. By simply telling those unique stories in our artwork, we can stand up for all of those who deserve to be heard.
Here's one such poem, one that feels fitting for the chaos of today.
Riot Act, April 29, 1992
I'm going out and get something.
I don't know what.
I don't care.
Whatever's out there, I'm going to get it.
Look in those shop windows at boxes
and boxes of Reeboks and Nikes
to make me fly through the air
like Michael Jordan
While I'm up there, I see Spike Lee.
Looks like he's flying too
straight through the glass
that separates me
from the virtual reality
I watch everyday on TV.
I know the difference between
what it is and what it isn't.
Just because I can't touch it
doesn't mean it isn't real.
All I have to do is smash the screen,
reach in and take what I want.
Break out of prison.
South Central homey's newly risen
from the night of living dead,
but this time he lives,
he gets to give the zombies
a taste of their own medicine.
Open wide and let me in,
or else I'll set your world on fire,
but you pretend that you don't hear.
You haven't heard the word is coming down
like the hammer of the gun
of this black son, locked out of this big house,
while massa looks out the window and sees only smoke.
Massa doesn't see anything else,
not because he can't,
but because he won't.
He'd rather hear me talking about mo' money,
mo' honeys and gold chains
and see me carrying my favorite things
from looted stores
than admit that underneath my Raider's cap,
the aftermath is staring back
unblinking through the camera's lens,
courtesy of CNN,
my arms loaded with boxes of shoes
that I will sell at the swap meet
to make a few cents on the declining dollar.
And if I destroy myself
and my neighborhood
“ain't nobody's business, if I do”
but the police are knocking hard
at my door
and before I can open it,
they break it down
and drag me in the yard.
They take me in to be processed and charged,
to await trial,
while Americans forget
the day the wealth finally trickled down
to the rest of us.
from Vice, 1999