In Defense of Art as Protest

Shaun King & Kendi K
Jul 22, 2020 - 4:38

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There is a lot to protest right now, and a lot of ways to protest. 

Black people have been told since the beginning of their existence in America that whatever way we protest is wrong. From the rebellions of enslaved Afrikans, to the Montgomery bus boycotts, to the Black Lives Matter marches going on right now, no form of protest has ever been accepted as correct. There are always those who oppose. There are always those who say, “This is the wrong way to fight.” 

But that is the point of protesting, right?

To do what is seen as “wrong.”

To be a Black person sitting at an all white lunch counter. 

To kneel during the national anthem of a country that has never stood up for you. 

To paint “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in big, bold, unforgettable letters on every street possible. 

As people discover the best way to protest for themselves, discussions over what is most effective have emerged. Some say the murals of victims of police violence are unnecessary, believing all the focus of the movement should be on policy change. While the value of one form of protest over the other may seem apparent, the truth of the matter is, change comes in many forms. Every person has their own role, the ways in which they add fuel to the fire that is affecting this change. 

We can argue over who is providing more, but in the end, it all adds up. 

When dismantling systems, we have to look at the symbols. Symbols inform culture. We undervalue the role of art, music, dance, language and even social media in the way they influence the culture that influences movements. We need beautiful paintings of Breonna Taylor for the same reason we need to tear down every Confederate statue in the country: symbols hold weight. Policy changes are only one step of many that must be taken to shape the ideals of a nation. 

There is no time to judge someone else’s form of protest. That requires energy we do not have the luxury of wasting. We must reflect on our own strengths and how they can be used to progress the cause. Artists must paint, singers must sing, lawyers must argue, politicians must propose policy, and together, a culture of equity backed by systemic change will be fostered. 

In today’s episode, Shaun breaks down the ways in which every person’s individual power can contribute to the revolution going on in America. 

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