In the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, photographs of protesters and journalists as targets for policemen with military weapons have emerged.
I have finally begun to see the importance of cell phones. All of my friends know I ditched my cell phone, got a house phone, and pretended to live in the 1980s for a while. They gently operated around my oddity, by calling me at home, leaving voice messages, running up to my apartment unannounced for tea. That was possible in Western Mass, where there is more countryside than there is people, and everybody is writing a book.
But 3 days ago, a good friend and my unofficial PR agent, R., insisted I take and use her smartphone to stay connected to my social media sites.
This violent summer is the perfect time to have a smartphone. With it, I can turn my gaze onto a nation that is becoming increasingly militarized. I can keep up with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where my activist friends are posting links for important information about the injustices taking place in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
If someone is being treated unjustly, I can turn my gaze, and that of my camera, onto them.
Much critical work has been done by feminist critics about the importance and usefulness of employing an oppositional gaze, or looking back at those who, through their set of identities, may have more power than you do. In the classic Black Looks, bell hooks writes: “the politics of slavery, of radicalized power relations, were such that the slaves were denied their right to gaze” (115). But “[s]paces of agency exist for black people, wherein we can both interrogate the gaze of the Other but also look back, and at one another, naming what we see” (116).
In Ferguson, civilians, journalists, and even politicians are under the gaze of snipers and police officers with weapons.
And these civilians, journalists, and politicians are looking right back. They employ an oppositional gaze and then allow us to see what they see by taking photos, by posting on Twitter, by maintaining an online presence through their cell phones.
So it makes sense that journalists are getting locked up for doing their job. It makes sense that protesters who are gazing defiantly at police, asking for answers, are getting tear gassed. But we can’t stop looking. For some people, all we know about America–it’s dark history of violence, of hatred, of systematic oppression–is being proven. For others, these photographs challenge and tear at America’s image as a country which stands for freedom and equality for all.
We need to keep looking at Ferguson, because it is by looking, by photographing, by sharing, that we shame the powers-that-be into doing something to protect its citizens. We need to keep looking, because our collective oppositional gaze may be the beginning of positive change.
They’ll look, I’ll look, and we’ll all pray.