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Art Blackness Police Brutality Social Justice

They See Us as Hulks

“They see us as Hulks, and paint us as so, not realizing or refusing to acknowledge that we are more so David Banners…brilliant minds, searching for answers and peace…while we continue to be attacked and prodded by the powers that be…in a world that doesn’t understand that our powers help to save it time after time…”

To say that there was a multitude of emotions and extensive thought that went into the creating of this piece would be an injustice—not to me, the artist—but to the nations of people who witnessed the coverage surrounding the death of Mike Brown and the many other killings that preceded and succeeded it, and the wealth of heartache, turmoil, incomprehension, reasoning, interpreting, and misinterpreting that spawned from it all.

As an artist, I never create from a dark place mentally or spiritually; it is in my nature to avoid or flee from these internal atmospheres. In the words of Andre 3000, “I’m like why? The world needs sun, the hood needs fun, there’s a war going on and half the battle is guns…” The world/’hood is now all-encompassing: every nation, every culture, every race. That has been my approach artistically, to provide these dark days with glimmers of light. However, I felt compelled to venture into a more solemn state of mind to paint “They see us as Hulks, and paint us as so” not out of desire, but out of necessity. I needed to be a voice for those who were/are dying and who look like me physically, mentally, and circumstantially.

I needed to be a voice for those who were/are dying and who look like me physically, mentally, and circumstantially.

In the United States of America, we are born into a culture, legal system, and government structure that was built on the premise that we were lesser beings—livestock if you will—assets only in the sense of labor to help build the World’s Greatest Nation for the true beneficiaries of this land, the white privileged. This truth is forever etched into the American psyche, whether consciously or subconsciously, and whether on the privileged or unprivileged side of the fence. It is an irrevocable way of thinking that is passed down generation-to-generation, and that is confirmed and cultured through life experience, with the media as the greatest catalyst. I applaud and appreciate those, of all cultures, who acknowledge this truth and do whatever is in their powers to combat this thought process. There is no progress in denying it or overlooking it.

The ramifications of this psyche are historically and currently fatal to the black male. When you are not valued, you are disposable. When you know that you are disposable, your self-value—and values as a whole—consequently become muddled. This is compounded by the projections of the black male in American culture and the media. We must also factor in the large amount that is now self-imposed. We have become infatuated with the persona that has been given to us, and we have internalized it. In a great sense, we have been Frankensteined. We have been built, through oppression and control, and are now seen as monsters. Now, the pitchforks and torches have become pistols wielded by law enforcement and authorities.

What was once viewed as brilliant minds with immeasurable potential and accomplishments has become the inverse. We are now heralded for our undeniable physical prowess and accolades. The value of our genetic aesthetics has surmounted our intellectual limitlessness in the world’s eye, in a world that values knowledge and intellectual advancement most. Not to mention, there are the countless cases of stolen intellectual property, discrediting of inventions and discoveries, and denial of advancements that have come from the minds of black males. Our perception is now our package, not the invaluable contents within. The Hulk in us is the Main Attraction. The brilliance that is the David Banner in us is an after thought. Our physique is admired—the biceps, chest, abs, thighs, calves, penis—and what we can do with them entertains, gratifies, and exponentially increases the pockets of the privileged to no end.

“That boy can run that ball!”

“Wow, did you see that shot?!?!”

“This kid is a freak of nature!”

“…his d*&% is so BIG!”

“you can’t coach that type of speed”

“this guy is a BEAST!”

“…Hulks.”

We are legendary for our strength and build, the size of our sexual organs, and our capabilities with both. David Banner cannot be marketed and lucrative on a day to day basis, but the Hulk…he is what sells and leaves the masses in awe. The problem with this is that the Hulk becomes a threat when he is uncontrollable and not confined to certain parameters. He then becomes a threat, a danger and a menace, not only to those trying to harness and profit off of his superpowers, but to society as a whole. Cue all major networks.

At eyes’ glance, the Hulk is intimidating, immediately. It is easy to recognize the potential physical threat that he poses without ever hearing him speak or knowing him intimately. There is an innate fear within those who do not match his physical stature, whether admitted or not. “If he wanted to, he could…(insert fear).” Fear is the greatest influencer of irrational thought and behavior, in my opinion. When speaking of the subconscious fear of the black male, we must note the influence of the historical classification of us as the primitive big black buck or brute. This was a calculated and vastly distributed image and stereotype that painted us as savage creatures, possessing no reason of right and wrong, who raped and killed without remorse. Again, this strategic implementation of fear is still prevalent today. This heightened sense of fear manifests in confrontational situations involving law enforcement and the black male (Hulk). I do not doubt that some of the police officers do actually “fear for their lives” in some of these cases. However, that does not justify the irrational decisions or actions that transpire because of the perceived threat that they face. In fact, this perceived threat and subconscious fear has become the real threat and fear for all those who value the life of the black male.

Fear is the greatest influencer of irrational thought and behavior, in my opinion.

What is even more unsettling is the fact that in most instances, confrontation is completely avoidable and unnecessary. If George Zimmerman had never followed or approached Trayvon Martin, if police officers had simply kept their hands off of Eric Garner, if Mike Brown was never approached or confronted for simply walking in the street, if we were just… left… alone. I am not talking about the outliers where crimes have been committed and authorities need to act (and even in those cases, violence and brutality is not necessary most of the time). The gentlemen mentioned lost their lives because someone chose to interrupt their daily routine. Their daily walk was intruded upon, and they lost their lives as a result. If the authorities and military were not bothering, hunting, antagonizing, or prodding David Banner, the world would never see the Hulk. If Mr. Banner were able to work and perform his life’s calling as a scientist and live in a safe neighborhood and not worry about being profiled or targeted, there would be no Hulk.

As in the case of David Banner, the great majority of us want to simply live…to simply enjoy the same “unalienable rights,” on a day-to-day basis, that were promised to those descending from the “founders” of this nation. We want peace, good jobs, and the ability to provide for our families. We want quality education, descent housing, and laws that protect us and not oppress us. It does not seem like much to ask for, or too far out of reach. Yet, this is what we have been yearning for and denied of since our chained and battered bodies first stepped foot on this land. While access to higher education, greater opportunity in the job market, and political activism have helped a certain margin of us “achieve” the American Dream, the great majority of us still suffer while looking up at Mount Olympus. The constant reminder of how great life is when you have resources and power is projected down the mountain in the form of “celebrity” and entertainment. These projections become knives to those without resources: slashing and ripping apart hope, optimism, self-esteem, peace of mind, contentment, etc. This becomes the Inner Hulk of the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. Having to burden this beast on a daily basis is already a tumultuous task, but then to be antagonized or preyed upon becomes too much. We get loud, we yell back, we lash out, we become the Angry Black Man, we become Hulks, we defend ourselves, we get murdered.

I chose to paint this piece in the style of a comic book for a couple of reasons. The first is the obvious reference to the comic book character and storyline of The Incredible Hulk. In my eyes, it was the perfect analogy for what transpired in Ferguson, Missouri, and what has been happening for centuries. The graphic nature of the murder of Mike Brown aligned with the graphic illustrations that I remembered seeing in my comic books as a kid. I had a fascination with comic illustrations and it was reflected in my early drawings and sketches. I chose to resort back to that creative space, one that I had not been in for years.

Having to burden this beast on a daily basis is already a tumultuous task, but then to be antagonized or preyed upon becomes too much.

The second reason that I chose the comic book style was in order to explore and express my thoughts of the advantageous capitalizing off of tragic events such as these through the media and entertainment outlets. Comics were written and illustrated to entertain and to be lucrative for publishers, writers, illustrators, etc. The Incredible Hulk was entertainment that generated profit. Coverage of tragic events has become a new form of entertainment, with CNN and FOX News ratings peaking during times of turmoil. Ratings, as we know, equal advertising dollars, entertainment that generates profit. Reality has become the new comic book, where graphic stories and images can be viewed from the comfort of nice homes or on mobile devices. It becomes fantasy, in a sense, for those who are not directly affected. To others, it is real, but entertainment nonetheless, because they have become so numb to it. The unfortunate truth is that Mike Brown is reality, real lives are being lost, and murderers are not being held accountable for deadly crimes because they are on the “right side of the law.”

My depiction of Officer Darren Wilson is neither an attack on him personally nor an attack on the police force as a whole. It is, however, an open depiction and illustration of the unacceptable approach to dealing with police brutality and murder by our judicial system. It is an open attack on the way the media portrays law enforcement officers, as opposed to the murdered victims in these cases. It is a direct challenge to the thought process that leads people to believe that there are no “bad” cops, or to the “officer was probably in the right” mentality. We depict police officers as heroes who abide by the laws of this land at all cost, and who live to serve and protect our well being. The fact of the matter is, police officers are normal human beings with normal problems and flaws like the rest of us. Some are brave, some are not. Some are noble, some are not. Some are law abiding, some are not. Some are kind, some are not. Some are rational, some are not. To treat men and women of the law as blameless defenders of the law is a disservice to them and the citizens who they are sworn to protect. It gives a cloak and shield to some individuals who are reckless, arrogant, careless, malicious, racist, prejudiced, irrational, fearful, and so on. I do not think that this represents the majority of those who don the uniform, but there is definitely enough of these cancerous individuals in the force to cause alarm.

To be an officer of the law is a career choice. At the base level, it is a job, a means to provide financially for oneself and/or one’s family by way of labor. The risk that is involved with the nature of being an officer is what separates it from the norm and justifies our level of respect and reverence for the position. However, like in any other career, there are those who are not fit for the job. There are those who will make crucial mistakes during the course of their tenure. There are bad employees. Not everyone applies for a job because they believe it will help them make the world a better place. Many apply out of the necessity to make a living. Some choose careers because it is their last and only option. Some will seek certain employment in a certain field simply because they fit the criteria. We must recognize and accept that this is true when it comes to law enforcement as well. We must hold officers accountable for their actions, as we would expect for it to hold true in any other profession. Just as those who save lives deserve to be honored and praised, those who take lives unjustly need to be tried and judged accordingly.

To treat men and women of the law as blameless defenders of the law is a disservice to them and the citizens who they are sworn to protect.

In the case of Darren Wilson, poor decisions on his behalf cost a young man his life. I am hard-pressed to believe that any unarmed individual would just attack a police officer; again, why would an unarmed individual (no matter race or age) with no violent criminal record attack a police officer, who is known to be well-armed, for no apparent reason? Officer Wilson, in my opinion, made a bad employee decision to even bother Mike Brown, and once the situation got confrontational, he acted in a deadly, irrational manner. I was not there, and I will never claim to know the true details of what transpired that day. However, life experience has unfortunately provided me with this narrative far too often. This is “just my interpretation of the situation.” My prayers go up for the family and friends of the victim, and the family and friends of the shooter. Although the pain that they are experiencing is different, it is pain nonetheless. We are witnessing the loss of devalued life too consistently.

I ask that you not be entertained.” I ask that you be moved.

They See Us as Hulks, and Paint Us as So
“They see us as Hulks, and paint us as so” by Martin T. Reese

By Martin T. Reese

Martin T. Reese is an artist and entrepreneur committed to pursuing his passion with every fiber of his being. Reese draws inspiration daily from the world around him, being careful to capture ideas that are just as awkward and quirky as the colorful lens-less sunglasses that frames his face. “I was created to create,” he says. View his work at MartisticExpressions.com.