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Storming the pixels: New frontiers of race activism

  • 05 September 2017


There's storming the barricades, and there's storming the pixels. Critical race activism in the 21st century can take on fascinating forms.

A great recent example of this is the destruction of Confederate monuments in the United States, and the debates and actions surrounding these events. They generated larger conversations about culture wars and re-ignited the cycle of argument around historical authenticity, heroism and — dare anyone say it these days? — truth. With the vastly accelerated news cycle we have today, with platforms like Twitter, livestreaming and micro-vidding, it's sometimes hard to not see what's happening elsewhere.

Within a day or so of the statues controversy, Mic media agency's Jack Smith IV released this video about why Confederate statues fall apart so easily, talking about the phenomenon of mass producing these items as an exercise in manufacturing (and defending) a certain mythology of Southern USA history. Smith's video provided a more in-depth, politically astute counter-narrative to the unquestioning rhetoric around monuments and heroism.

The arguments immediately took off in Australia about the colonial monuments that pepper our civic landscapes, and what should be done about them. Ensuing debates replayed the outrage that had beset the US series of events. This anger seems to be a regular component when those who are invested in traditional versions of history find these versions questioned. It is, after all, set in stone, right?

I am not a historian but I do know that all history is subjective. This idea was a huge revelation for me, when I first encountered it during an undergraduate critical historiography subject at university.

The subject talked about the writing of history, the different approaches scholars took, and the consequences these approaches and biases had for the history that was produced. My first sophisticated take on this back then was, 'What? We're going to look at the writing of history and historians rather than actual history?'

In retrospect, what I learned in this subject became one of the key tools in my critical thinking cabinet. To this day, one of my favourite things is finding out the history behind the history — who wrote it and why are they writing it the way they are? What might they not know? What did they look at, and what didn't they consider?

The idea that there were multiple histories that could all be 'correct' blew my mind, not to mention that there was plenty of history that was out-and-out