Thursday, June 16, 2005

Racism continues

(Left and below) The grave of James Byrd, Jr., a dragging death victim, has a fence around it in Jasper on Tuesday, April 26, 2005. The fence was installed after vandals violated the grave a year ago.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Yesterday, I said I didn't think the Lamar University fund raiser was sensitive enough about costumes and song selections. I also mentioned my hesitancy about posting the Civil War reenactment group's Memorial Day activities. This created some debate in the comment section of the post. This is good.

Today, I wanted to show y'all how serious racism is in this area. There is no need for racism, jingoism, fanaticism or monopolism. The reflectivity of someone's skin has nothing to do with the person's honor. Where a person was born has nothing to do with what the person can achieve, nor how they can help all of us. Religious zealotry isn't proof of piety or righteousness. Income doesn't determine value.

As long as some judge others by their appearance, place of origin, house of worship or bank statement rather than their deeds, then humankind cannot advance.

Every person has something to contribute to humankind as a whole. PJs contribute art, knowledge, humor and hold up humankind's failures for examination. Racism is one such failure. It is not a one-way street either.

As our society becomes more globalized, it also appears to become more self-protective and greedy. While some level of self-protection and friendly competition is valid, it's illogical to store the wheat while the field goes fallow. Nor does it make sense to starve the many so the few eat well.

I don't advocate communism, socialism or any other radical agenda. I'm simply saying we must all sew the seeds of honor and reap the benefits together. Creating illusionary us vs. them situations to shift blame isn't constructive. It's destructive and needs to stop.

We must all accept responsibility for our actions. We must also try to correct problems within our society. This means we must also hold others accountable for their actions through our images.

I've been dumbfounded in recent years by the tragic repercussions of our failure to speak against, understand or even acknowledge historical failures. The problems we now face have been resolved before. Must we allow others to lead us down the path of failure again?

All the answers are contained within history books. Possibly racism is problematic to only this small region. However, I suspect it is not. I see a strong push across the planet toward several self-destructive avenues: racism, jingoism, religious fanaticism and monopolism are all roads to separation and alienation. I believe we, as photojournalists, must document – at the least – the futility of these actions. We must also document those rare, honorable few who are willing to cling to the belief that we must help each other.

None of us got into this field because we wanted to get rich. We sweat and bleed and burn and some even die to make the world a better place for everyone. Somehow, the visual priority has shifted to the easy targets. It's much easier to show starvation in Africa, dangerous religious exuberance in Palestine, corrosive nationalism in Korea or outright greed in Columbia than it is to show it in a PJ's hometown. It's much easier to show the practiced smiles of actors and socialites than it is to show the quiet honor of a person hard at work.

I challenge you, as photojournalists, to stop taking the easy route. I challenge you to create a dialog with your readers about the problems surfacing in your community before it's too late. When you can do something to prevent a tragedy, do it. When you can't, document it. Otherwise, we are doomed to relive history's failures again.

Enough for now,


Audrey said...

Your work is amazing, and inspires me to be a better photographer. Thank you for all of your helpful advice. I appreciate it more than you will ever know. said...

As a photographer still in high school, I don't have the ability to travel to other countries and document their problems, however I have taken to documenting problems amongst teens in my suburban town. Drugs, underage sex, alcohol abuse, theft, love triangles, its all here -- and I am trying to bring it to all the people that have ignored the issues for years.

Thanks for reinforcing a principle a lot of people have forgotten: expose the truth, even if people don't want to hear it.

Thanks Mark.

-Daniel Berman

Mark M. Hancock said...

I thank both of you for standing up and doing what's right. Doing what should be done is often the hardest road to walk. It's lonely and often full of conflict. Walk the right path as long as you can.

Bryon Houlgrave said...

I think everyone should join the fight to battle racism and discrimination. While the media is a solid proponent of this fight, I think other things can be done (and are being done) by everyday people to combat this problem.

It is crucial in today's world, with the dawning of the global community, that people of all colors, religions, backgrounds, etc. change their perspectives.

Without change, Mark is right in the fact we will be doomed to repeat past failures. I love history, but I would hate to be a subject in a history book. Sadly, my children will read about the unfortunate demise of James Byrd, Jr. in a classroom someday. And really, for what?