Billboards are still a powerful way to grab the public’s attention; this particular one, which I noticed just yesterday, features the work of a politically-minded vandal offering a point-blank answer to a very serious question.
In a state where an entire city (Flint) was sacrificed to the neoliberal gods; where an entire county (Macomb) gained the nation’s spotlight for its embarrassingly backwards, misguided support of the white nationalist who will be inaugurated as our 45th president next year; where the children in the city of Detroit cannot count on the public education system and have been denied a basic right to literacy – the people have been sent some very loud and clear messages. This altered billboard is simply answering those with another one of its own, and it’s not pussyfooting around.
Graffiti is a way to make a point using the landscape. It forces people to see what one has to say in a way that’s difficult to do in other formats. The graffiti I spotted on this Forgotten Harvest billboard on the corner of McNichols and Mound, just south of East Davison, is one of the most truthful examples of such work I have ever seen. The words are scrawled, surely in a hurry, but the message is delivered loud and clear.
Words are persuasive and racism must be acknowledged at every opportunity. We must refuse to normalize the disturbing actions of our president-elect and we must recognize that yes, so much of the time, structural inequalities are rooted in race, working to create and promote tangible “differences” to keep people divided; that racism casts a far wider, more insidious net than racial slurs and more visible prejudice; that it is built into the very system of capitalism that powers our globalized world.