It was approaching midnight on July 1 when I received a text from a friend of mine. His name is Shaughn Cooper, a photographer and creative from the DMV or Maryland to be specific. Among other things, he asked me to look over a body of work he just finished. Not knowing the subject matter or theme associated with the photographs, I asked him to send them on over. To be honest, I didn’t need to know. I know Shaughn. That was enough.
The timeliness of this series titled “MAD(e) In AMERIKKKA” by Shaughn Cooper could not have come at a more defining moment in our nation’s history. Confederate monuments are being toppled. Mississippi took down its flag carrying the old stars and bars. The murder of #GeorgeFloyd sparked nationwide unrest, demands to #Defund policing conversations and a call to reimagine public safety. Superficial paintings of “Black Lives Matter” on streets. Juneteenth, in some corporations, is now a holiday. Massive investments in Black causes by wealthy corporations, who benefitted from tax cuts by the Trump Administration and GOP Senators, use their extra cash to fund social justice organizations. Congress passed Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which they deemed as “BOLD,” but it is the absolute bare minimum on holding police accountable and compelling them to be more human, even as their implicit biases and racism conspire against them. Karens popping up left and right terrorizing the existence of Black people. White fragility being tested. Black trans people, especially Black trans women, are experiencing violence from all angles. #BlackTransLivesMatter. #AhmaudArbery being hunted and murdered while jogging by white supremacists. #BreonnaTaylor’s murderers are still FREE. This is all happening while Black people are still being lynched.
Black people and people of color still find it hard to breathe, speak, and exist in America. I’ve wept more times than I would like to admit. Carnage is inescapable. The sustained boot of racism on our necks has called for this country, once again, to hold itself accountable and to not abdicate responsibility. In a letter to Bobby Kennedy after his brother, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated, James Baldwin wrote in a letter, “Whatever may have blocked your understanding of what we have tried to tell you of our suffering,” he wrote, “is dissolved by suffering, and we beg you to allow us to share your grief. As we know that in these trying days to come, you share our struggle, for our struggle is the same.” To give context, Baldwin, before JFK was assassinated, spoke candidly with Bobby Kennedy to see the suffering of Black people only for Bobby to become suspicious of Baldwin. It wasn’t until racism lashed out at his brother when he “realized” that we are all in this together.
The vulnerability of these images speaks to the struggle Black people have with the hypocrisy of our democracy. Personally, I’ve struggled with a lifelong battle of being vulnerable because vulnerability could cost me my life. These photos illustrate, in my opinion, the pain but also love Black people have for our country. But as hope fades, I’ll leave you with the question raised by Eddie Glaude Jr in his latest book Begin Again:
“But what do you do when this glimmer of hope fades, and you are left with the belief that white people will never change–––that country, no matter we do, will remain basically the same?”
[MAD(e) IN AMERIKKKA] by SHAUGHN COOPER
MODELS FEATURED: MUKASICHIBWETA CHISAKA & TOLUWALASE KOLAWOLE OJO
PA: JOANNA DIAZ & MELANIE PLUMMER
I AM MAD IN AMERICA BECAUSE I WAS MADE IN AMERIKKKA— I was born into a system that wasn’t built for me. I’m MAD that I went through a school system that didn’t teach me about my lineage, but about others. I’m MAD because I had to learn about my people through means other than public school— why didn’t public schools teach us about the 13th amendment? Why didn’t public schools teach us about Kemet? Why didn’t public schools teach me about financial literacy so I could help circulate money in my community? Why did I have to learn these things on my own?
Often I would ask people around me these questions once I was exposed to ideas of them and rarely would I get a solid answer ….. Often I would get a verbatim “I dunno, but as a Black man in America, you’ll have to work ten times as hard to break even ……” As I grow older, I start to wonder ….. what if I was a Black felon (victim to that petty ass 3 strike law that was passed by Bill Clinton)? Would I have to work 100 times harder? What if I was a Black homosexual? Would I have to work 1000 times harder? What if I was a Black woman? Would I have to work 10,000 times harder? What if I was a Black transgendered woman? Would I have to work 100,000 times harder? I just wanna break even man; we gotta do all this JUST to break even? Damn cuz.
As you can tell, most times I’m confused, but through my confusion, I am learning to research to get answers to these questions and more ….. One realization I have came to is that I can no longer celebrate independence for a country that has hunted down my people to enslave us, and if they can’t enslave us, they kill us and they’ve been doing this for the past 400 years; at times I feel like we’ve been on the brink of extinction since we were forcefully brought to this country. But all in all, I think if you are Black or if you consider yourself an ally and you’d still like to pay respect to our country’s history, you should commemorate full awareness of the history of the United States in its full awareness which would also include Juneteenth.
In closing remarks, I’d like to touch on a few more things ….. photographing these protests recently have felt like the first time my life that I fought for something. Every since, I’ve felt fatigued, but I’ve also felt empowered— empowered to create a better tomorrow for my future children, my nieces and nephews, etc; empowered to help my fellow brothers and sisters help dismantle a racist system that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents also had to fight against. I feel like we may be close to the end of it ….. there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done though.
Lastly, being a frontline responder is not the only role you can play in the revolution. If you can’t protest, you can also sign petitions, call elected officials and ask how they are aiding against systematic racism, and you can also speak out against transphobia and homophobia; these are just a few things we can do though, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more we can do— I’m still learning myself. Thank you for reading.
To learn more about the projects of Shaughn Cooper, visit www.shaughncooper.com.