A few weeks back, LOKI designed a set of anti-racist graphics in response to mounting islamophobic and racist attacks in Québec, and specifically to be used in mobilizing counter protests against extreme right wing groups that had planned public demonstrations across Canada that weekend.
The graphics were widely liked and shared, and had good visibility in Montreal, but I was surprised and disheartened by responses from some people in my networks that took issue with the statement “Make Racists Afraid Again.” I generally don’t have a problem with explaining my political positioning to people, but in the context of rushing to design and print posters and stickers, and trying to get as many people as possible to attend the protest, the time and energy it took to address these criticisms was frustrating to say the least.
The slogan is a popular détournement of Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, and I like that it holds a bit of humour alongside its menace. It’s a timely slogan, one that calls for action, and also points toward the possibility of success (with the almost futuristic use of the word “again”). In short, I think it’s punchy (Richard Spencer pun intended) and effective, especially in how it’s been taken up and expressed in many different ways, by many different individuals and groups.
The people who commented negatively, whom I would generally consider allies, clearly don’t feel the same urgency (or fear) that racialised folk, immigrants, and especially Arab and Muslim people, are feeling. I suppose this makes some sense, if they are disconnected from these communities, yet just a few weeks earlier six people were gunned down by a white supremacist in a mosque in Quebec City, and an Islamic centre and mosque in “multicultural” Toronto was set on fire. Extreme right wing groups are ballooning in numbers and voicing their hate speech publicly online, in mainstream media, and in the streets, alongside exponentially rising rates of hate crimes being committed. Not to mention what is happening daily down South, nor the ongoing terrorizing of indigenous peoples. Within this context, to not recognize the seriousness of our current situation perhaps speaks to our overexposure to fragmentary news media. It's a bit of a weak argument, but one I feel I have to cling to in order to maintain a belief in our basic humanity. And it is precisely this clouded media saturation that a direct graphic statement like ours was meant to cut through.
Amongst the responses I received, the liberal rhetoric of education and free speech came up again and again. “Make Racists Educated Again?” I find this to be a simplistic and classist argument. Racists have been raised and educated in the same places as the rest of us, it’s a choice, they’re not victims. Breakdowns on who voted for Trump clearly show this. On a practical level, it’s naive, as education takes a really long time, and I’m afraid that given the circumstances we don’t have it. And on a personal level, this was doubly insulting as it discounts all the education work the studio does around racism every day. Education, broadly speaking, is related to what and who's stories are represented in the media and public sphere. We work very hard to make sure we can carve out some space for the concerns of marginalised peoples. And the ironic thing is, it is this very “education”, this space-taking, that racists seem to be reacting to so violently.
On the flip side of this is that our cultural context has also legitimized extremist, racist rhetoric. Only a few years back, racists may not have been afraid, but at least it seemed many felt too ashamed to voice their hate as loudly or as publicly as they do now. Certainly, they held these views, but they understood that it was generally looked down upon, not cool, and they held them in shadows. Due in large part to weak liberal logic, and a naive understanding of “free speech” (which has now become the rallying cry of the right), the cultural landscape has changed drastically. So the call to “Make Racists Afraid Again” is a call to action for everyone who is against racism to express their position clearly and proactively, in any way they can, so that our public sphere becomes a place where racism is not tolerated (again or anymore). Which yes, to the dismay of the critics, includes intimidating racists in direct ways.
And I suppose it’s this point that some people just can’t seem to come around to. The so-called “aggressiveness” of our approach. If I haven’t addressed it yet, I’d prefer to simply let the words of Assata Shakur sing it out:
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
I’m sharing these thoughts publicly here as I see them as communications problems, design problems. But I have to ask the critics why they chose to take time out of their day to comment on, question, and derail our work? And if they’ve taken the time to engage in this same “education” work with these racists whom they are seemingly so concerned about? And that problem, is a fundamentally moral one.