Posted October 7, 2015 by Sarah Ayers 

Art as Social Advocacy

Social advocacyTo voice their increasing displeasure regarding recurring incidents of police brutality against black people, LeBron James and Derrick Rose were among the many professional athletes to don black T-shirts reading “I CAN’T BREATHE" during pregame sessions last season. Those three words were the last of Eric Garner, a black New York citizen who was confronted by police upon suspicion of selling individual cigarettes on July 17, 2014. He died as a result of the encounter that many believe turned unnecessarily violent, which prompted a public outcry and mass response to police brutality in the United States. Coroner’s reports found he died as a result of a “chokehold and ... compression of his chest during arrest,” in addition to pre-existing poor health.

Those same words appeared in a new and more disturbing form at the University of California–Berkeley the following December. As part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration on Dec. 13, three life-sized depictions of historical lynchings were displayed on campus, including one cutout depicting the 1911 lynching of Laura Nelson with “#I CANT BREATHE” printed down the center. The provocative art became a poignant message to passersby which served as a reminder that, despite strides in civil rights in the United States, there are still impelling injustices which need to be advocated for.

In a unique, creative way, the artists merged the shame of history and today’s distressing face of racism to advance the next wave of the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, the issues to be tackled are difficult—if not impossible—to untangle from the patterns of discrimination, hate, and belittlement that mar our history and have lamentably evolved in U.S. culture.

In 2014, blacks remained to have the lowest household income in the United States, which testifies to the long-term issues of our post-slavery society. The socioeconomic status of a person’s parents is the largest predictor of the socioeconomic future of an individual. When blacks brought to America were treated as property and withheld from owning any, they were systematically predestined for unnecessary hardships in America. These hardships rear their head in the form of employment discrimination, mass incarceration, and even still in the form of killings. Breaking the social constructs that perpetuate these issues is the next big issue and will require creative collaboration upon the issue as well as decisive support and advances in racial equality in the democratic sphere.


Sarah Ayers

Sarah Ayers is the Student at Indiana University–Bloomington.

Sarah is a first-generation college student attending Indiana University–Bloomington. Her top passion is poetry and she is a strong supporter of visual, written, and performing arts.


Note: To post a comment to The Commons, you must login to the ACUI website.
about the commons
The Commons is the online hub to discover new ideas and learn what is going on in the college union and student activities profession.
more ...
about the contributors

Meet the ACUI members who have volunteered to share their knowledge and insights as regular authors in The Commons.

more ...