my run-in with the police helped me find my purpose as an artist of color

January 30, 2017

Last summer the police arrested me. Well, at least they went through the motions. They put me in a room with three police officers, they catalogued my tatoos, they took mugshots, they swabbed my DNA. They refused me a lawyer; they threatened me with the potential of a criminal record. All of this happened without my permission, yet I was compliant (albeit hysterical), and when I stated I do not know my rights, the police officer swiftly replied, “All you need to know is this isn’t America. You are not innocent until you are proven guilty.”

In the aftermath of this experience, I was broken. A sense of security that I afforded myself was gone. I felt terrified to come home at night. I dreamt of police in my bedroom. I wrestled with the false sense of privilege I had afforded myself. Why did I think none of this would happen to me? Because I am a woman? Because I have several college degrees? Because I am a recognized community organizer? It was heartbreaking to see myself being robbed of a sense of security that I now so clearly realize never even existed.

Brandy Butler, AFROPUNK contributor

A lot of European countries would like to exclude themselves from the attachment to colonialism and therefor racism. Small countries like Switzerland feel like they have never taken part in the physical disruption of brown people’s lives by importing and exporting them, so this should free them of the thought that the way they interact with brown bodies could be incorrect. I’ve had countless interactions in which people have told me defensively, “If you think it’s so bad here, go be a black person in France or Kosovo.” They always seem to forget that this body is not something that can be shed, and I have been a black person in both France and Kosovo because I am black everywhere I go.

Lately this idea that “no one can steal your peace,” seems like a farce. We brown people are so often expected to be the ones to engage; to listen; to explain. I frequently have to give up my own peace so that another person can feel safe. I know if I do not in these moments, I am considered a threat which could also endanger my career, or even my life. I was absolutely robbed of my peace by the police officers that day. Withperspective I can see it’s because I was just following one of the templates of brown existence. We are generation after generation of brown bodies trying to get people to validate our experience by hoping that they will eventually admit that our truth even exists.

It was, however, in my brokeness that I have had the most beautiful revelations. I had such clear images about my art and my purpose as an artist. I know now I am here to validate myself and the existence of others by recording and preserving our truth. As artists, we all are.

We are moving out of the space where self-expression is no longer solely at the forefront of creativity. Creation now returns back to its original functions. It resorts to a fundamentel primality of survival: to document and preserve stories; to collect them and record them into melodies, paint them into brushstrokes, translate them into snare hits, type them into books. All of this so we can leave behind our own manuscript: I was here. We were here. And by doing that, let no man pressure us into being erased from the true story of ourselves. This is the story that deserves to be told and it is our responsibility as artists to be fearless in doing it at all costs.

All music is from Brandy Butler’s forthcoming album.