From the Embers of Protest Comes Vital New Political Art

The gap between official history and real history is where most of us live, some of us battling to speak our truth and reality even as fellow citizens cling hard to official history that is whitewashed to the point of being blatant lies. “History is written by the victors,” goes the axiom. And the victors’ text is fiercely guarded by those who have a vested interest in maintaining a brutal status quo.

Historians of the future who want to really understand the who, what, why, when, and how of social unrest in 21st-century America will have to dig through endless troughs of mainstream media propaganda and misrepresentation. They will find the real shit by studying screen-capped Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram uploads.

Over the past several days, Baltimore’s peaceful protests over the not so mysterious death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray (see story here) after he was taken into police custody have veered (some would argue that they have been manipulated) into a fiery show of outrage that has all but shut the city down. While mainstream media outlets have utilized ahistorical context and analysis, employed dog whistle language, and showed inflammatory imagery meant to stoke fear, folks on the ground and in the mix (and, crucially, from the community affected) have been documenting events from the inside out.

The Instagram account of photographer Devin Allen (@bydvnlln) has emerged as the most consistent, reliable source of images of what is happening at this very moment in Baltimore. The images – powerful, moving, often paradoxically beautiful – have been re-posted / re-blogged on celebrity social media accounts (Rihanna, Ice Cube), picked up by mainstream media (sometimes with proper attribution, sometimes without) and enthusiastically shared by countless ordinary people on assorted social media platforms. Some of the images (the black cop with tears in his eyes, the black father holding his toddler son, the lone black man running in front of a mass of policemen) have already become iconic.