Throughout our history, racial imbalance has created an invisible line we cannot see, but definitely feel, separating economic opportunities and social wellbeing of certain classes. With time the world has changed so vastly and as human beings, we have progressed, but far from enough. In theory, diversity should be embraced, not limit people.
When my cameraman and I were organizing and researching for this project, initially we wanted a museum dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be at the heart of our project. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any in Los Angeles, but the Museum of Tolerance and the California African American Museum greatly helped.
Michael A. Harris, 55, was taking his day off and visiting the CAAM together with his family. As his kids ran around and his wife hushed them, Harris was not paying attention to the commotion, but solely focused on a painting on the wall. As we got closer to Harris, we could see his deep obsession with Derrick Adams’ Show Down, a mixed-media collage on paper done in 2014.
Show Down (2014), by Derrick Adams
The painting by Adams illustrates African American males pointing guns at each other, with their cultural differences clearly shown in their apparel and their cores. As he keeps staring at the artwork, Harris said, “I believe that they took him negatively, because it was a wide movement at this time, [during] the 60s. So when he was talking about love, the other side of the fence was talking about hatred.”
In regard to why the media would attack such a crucial figure during a historical movement, Harris first emphasizes how important non-violent protests are, and then addresses the Bible. “So when he was speaking, he was speaking of the turn of the cheek, from the Bible. But the media on the outside was talking about don’t turn the cheek. It will only turn aggressive against you and aggressive towards the others,” said Harris.
In the Bible, the term “turn of the cheek” is in reference to protesting in nonaggressive and nonresistant manners, facilitating your opposition to inflict physical damage upon you. In terms of nations and government, our military and police are the ones responsible for breaking protests. By peacefully protesting and disengaging from physical aggressions, this silent anarchy speaks louder than its numbers.
Terrance Ware Jr., 20, is the current President of the Associated Students at Santa Monica College. Before presenting his explanation, Ware takes a moment to remind us that racial biases and tensions were different back then. “No matter how much I try to break it down, they were raised racist. Those people who were at the top of these companies, the big media companies, were racist as well. A lot of the time it was hard for the people to understand the message,” said Ware. He then emphasizes how not all white people were racist, but most of them were. Ware truly believes a big part of the general public was not ready to hear the message.
During Dr. King’s time, the media thought African Americans were being too demanding. As the interview continues, Ware gets passionate and energetic, even taking a moment to sit up on his chair. “Too demanding? Too demanding?” Ware raises his voice. According to Ware, African Americans are not demanding anything out of the ordinary, but asking for the same opportunities.
Ware states the desires and wishes from African Americans are not to take over certain businesses, corporations, or government entities. All they seek is equal opportunity. Opportunities do not depend solely on which university or college you graduate from. Opportunities come from your home, family, neighborhood you live, what education you receive, what employment chances are available close to your area, and vastly many more.
To illustrate this, Ware makes an analogy comparing his past experience. “I go to a school in Watts, and you go to, let’s say Palos Verdes. Well, you go to a school where all the books are up to date. Up to date! Up to date in the sense that they are new books, talk about things happening now, and also has all the pages,” said Ware.
Personally, I was fortunate to grow up and attend schools in a wealthy area in Brazil. Growing up in a third world country makes you realize how lucky and important these core foundations truly are. Not fully understanding his message, I asked Ware to develop more on this concept. Ware takes a breath and continues to explain his analogy. “Now, I go to a school where the book doesn’t have all its pages, it’s a book from the 80s, where I’m not even learning current information. How is it that you and me have the same opportunity? Or are being treated fairly?” said Ware.
Segregations and race-based laws have been abolished since then. But while it may seem so de facto, in theory our practices have not changed much. Yes, minorities are able to work, live, and study at the same institutions and entities created by our economy. But if you look at the leaders and CEOs of corporations and governments today and compare it to the early 60s: their faces might have changed, but the skin tone remains relatively the same.