I have been thinking a lot about the genres that reinforce white supremacy this month.
Over the last 15 days, Seattle experienced police violence that made our streets tantamount to a war zone. While I watched on a live stream, fifteen minutes’ walk from my home, the police set off hundreds of flash bangs. They tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed peaceful protestors (after our mayor had guaranteed a ban of 30 days on such tactics).
I was not raised to trust the police. But my story is not the one I’m discussing today.
The story that we, as white consumers of media, need to talk about is the relationship of the police force to Black people. And one of the ways in which we can really begin to change our understanding of the world is to stop supporting genres that do harm.
If you haven’t caught my drift, I’ll make it plain: cop dramas are harmful. They support white supremacy.
Even as someone who was not raised to trust the cops, even as a Deaf woman who does not trust them for disability-related reasons, I still loved cop shows. Even this spring, I devoured Tommy, finding the liberal politics plus police procedural an unusual take on the usual “rah rah” of police narrative.
But since George Floyd’s death and the national ignition of a police abolition movement that has been met with overwhelming and unacceptable force, I don’t think that watching or creating cop stories is ethical any longer.
As white consumers and creators of media, we have to stop imagining a world where the police are our friends, where they are our protectors. We have to start seeing the world as it is, not just for us, but for the people who share the spaces we live in.
That means that when we watch TV, it shouldn’t be TV that makes us feel warm and fuzzy about the police. We shouldn’t watch television shows that continue to create distrust when we see Black people. We should not try to redeem a system that we are being told causes extreme harm.
There are good reasons for it.
Penroseum on tumblr did an excellent breakdown of one of the more charming examples of cop shows—Brooklyn 99. In it, they talk about why Brooklyn 99, a show that doesn’t show much physical violence, is still ultimately doing harm. A TV show that makes the police force look cute and cuddly, and that ultimately makes bad policing look harmless, is only going to reinforce the lie that the policing system is an acceptable societal tool.
We cannot only abolish the police on our streets, that alone is not enough. Because we cannot mourn for a system that does not work. We cannot continue to fictionally support it. We have to do better.
But don’t take my word for it.
Go read these books, go listen to Black voices. Resist the siren call of Tommy, of SVU, of Brooklyn 99. Because it does matter what fiction we consume. It does matter what stories we tell.
I for one will be stepping away from my Law & Order. I will work to tell stories that don’t rely on systemic police violence.
Black Lives Matter.
(For further reading, I suggest Victoria Alexander’s list: https://twitter.com/victoriaalxndr/status/1266829408268095493)
© 2020 Elsa Sjunneson