By Emily Hom:
It was time for me to listen. I try to do my part to support the Black Lives Matter movement by educating myself, sharing resources, and attempting to educate my family. But ultimately as someone who is White and Chinese, I will never be able to speak to this country’s issues of systematic racism better than the people who learn to survive it.
So, when I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Oakland that are now stamped with murals, I decided to look, listen, and reflect:
I am swept away by the chorus of messages that greet me. I look to one side and see a shop’s boarded up windows, and a portrait of Breonna Taylor greets my gaze, her face strong. Blooming pink flowers and yellow rays of sunshine frame her face and wash the painted blue sky with warmth. And here I catch myself, it’s not “her face,” it’s “Breonna’s face.” I remind myself to answer the cry to “say their names.”
I walk further and pass more boarded windows. This time I see a collection of seven messages coming together, screaming to be heard. I pause and look at each story the artist wants me to recognize. One board laughs at police for being surprised by protests induced by police violence. Another depicts, in hopeful melancholy, tears watering sunflowers with the words “OUR EXISTENCE IS RESISTANCE.” Another mural demands that the community “amplify Black voices” and “defund the police.”
Almost every mural echoes these messages, working together to amplify calls for action. The images themselves are mostly beautiful — pastels, lilac flowers, bright yellows — while the words painted across them leave no room for misinterpretation. These artists have turned cold and plain wooden boards into murals that demand attention.
Finally, I pass black-painted boards with the letters “Wall For Black People” pained at the top in red. The board prompts “What makes you feel SAFE?” Answers written in white chalk fill the boards: “laughter,” “when we gather,” “to be fully seen.” These answers remind me of the basic rights the Black community is repeatedly denied.
I think about the art that is typically celebrated and revered, canvases depicting the perspective of White men, framed in gold, hanging 4 feet apart in silent museum halls.
When I look around at the gallery of art that fills this neighborhood, I find myself saddened by the very fact that these messages need to be painted into murals to be heard. These murals aren’t meant to provoke discussions about artistic technique and symbolism. By their size and choice of canvas, they come together to tell a story of a community demanding change.
Art by everyone and for everyone — that's what makes this mosaic of murals powerful.
Please visit and consider supporting organizations such as Trust Your Struggle, the Bay Area Mural Project, and Good Mother Gallery.