Whether it was the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, or now Michael Brown, the media can’t seem to resist cherry-picking photos of them that reinforce deep-seated racial stereotypes, helping depict the circumstances as credibly disputed, the shooters as fearful for their lives, and the victims as unstated participants in their own demise.
Drudge, for example, infamously posted this photo of Trayvon Martin wearing a grill, as if that proved he was a thug:
Other conservative sites like Fox Nation ran with this photo of Michael Brown flashing what ignorant white people might suspect is a “gang sign,” again hoping to appeal to stereotypes about black people:
But you were less likely to see a photo of Brown as a harmless teenager:
— The Root (@TheRoot) August 11, 2014
There’s no evidence that the three teenagers were involved in anything violent or illegal when they were killed. But the photos chosen depict the victims white people anxious about their own racism would prefer to see, rather than the human beings that they were.
Black folks in America are justifiably offended, and some of them have seized on the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown to wonder which pictures of them would be shown on TV and online if an angry white male decided they were a threat and decided to “stand their ground.”
Here are some of the most striking submissions from the hashtag’s Tumblr:
Groundshark12 writes: “As a young black male who actually lives in st.Louis I wonder #iftheygunnedmedown which photo do you think they’d show.”
Stretchmarkilla writes: “#IFTHEYGUNNEDMEDOWN WHICH PICTURE WOULD THEY USE ON THE NEWS? 2006 14 year old me with no direction in life or 2014 22 year old me who graduated number one in his major with honors”
Is being black in America a crime? Can white folks tell the difference between a doctor and a criminal if they both happen to be wearing a hoodie? And should minorities have to “act respectable” by suspicious white peoples’ standards to avoid being, harassed, arrested, or gunned down?
This is a reminder that every shooting victim is a real person with ambitions, values, and loved ones, and that it’s really easy to handpick photos and anecdotes to reinforce a racial narrative that black people look like “gangstas” and that therefore white people have every reason to fear them.