Terra Galleria Photography

Black Lives Matter


At the start of 2020, nobody could have imagined that we’d see the pandemic flu of 1918, great depression of 1929, and riots of 1968 rolled into the first half of a single year. They are all linked together. Although it has been a time of fear and anxiety, I kept posting about photography and public lands because I assumed that you were interested in my insight on those topics, not in my politics. It happens to be a field I follow closely. By the way, my preferred source of information and commentary is electoral-vote.com, remarkably maintained by a pair of university professors rather than the usual pundits. Those who don’t consider themselves political may consider how the issue of race defines our country.

With all the suffering, pain, and anger, it has been difficult to concentrate on photography and writing. I felt I needed to educate myself about the issues, first the coronavirus, and then the injustices that continue to plague our nation. I spent long hours trying to listen to all the voices, decipher the history, make sense of the facts. I felt that by comparison photography was almost trivial and irrelevant. Even the national parks didn’t seem to be America’s Best Idea anymore when you weight them against the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil Rights Act. Yosemite National Park has personally brought me so much joy, but is it more important than the landmark amendments to the Constitution that gave all citizens equal protection under the law?

Living most of my American years in affluent Silicon Valley suburbs, my first clue that something was askew for African Americans was that I encountered so few of them in our national parks, and more generally in outdoor activities. Audrey and Frank Peterman’s Legacy on the Land make the same observation from a Black couple, mentioning in passing the dangers of being in the minority and out of place. It was more than a decade after I started to visit the parks that a conversation with Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson explained that puzzling fact. He considers the rejection of the natural world by the black community to be a scar left from slavery. The bond with nature that always existed in Africa was taken away by the horrible things American slave traders did to the Blacks in rural America. What I enjoyed so much, they’ve been robbed of.

While we certainly need equal access to the benefits provided by nature and the outdoors, the more urgent concern is the murder of Black people in this country, including the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. The later has been a catalyst because it was particularly abhorrent, and has been particularly well captured on video. However, if like I did, you take the time to inform yourself, you will find that for each murder caught on video, many aren’t well documented. Black people are disproportionately affected by this violence, and they’ve been telling us about it for a long time. Martin Luther King said “riot is the language of the unheard”. This is our test to see if we can hear.

My father, during his youth, had fought against French colonialism. He taught me much about racial-based oppression. While all people of color have suffered from it, a most famous Vietnamese man wrote almost a century ago “it is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family”. I will always favor compassion and side with the oppressed. It would have been safer to stay away from controversial topics, but I felt a moral duty to state that Black lives matter and to stand in solidarity with those working to fight racial injustice. However modest my audience is, I am still privileged to have one at all, and I felt a responsibility to speak out. Silence is acquiescence. By joining our voices, we can make a difference.

While it may take a long time to address the institutional causes of racial inequality and injustice, as they run profoundly in a country built on original sin, where emancipation was followed by sharecropping, lynching, segregation, and discrimination, we stand a chance to correct in the medium term the problem of police brutality. The last few weeks have shined a bright light on it, since police have responded to mostly peaceful protests with more police brutality, often in plain view of cameras and assaulted journalists. Police (and the military) are often glorified as heroes. If so, why does a woman calling the cops on a Black man was widely understood to put the life of the man in danger? The police are just an assortment of people, although one funded by American taxpayers to the tune of $114.5 billion per year. Some are truly dedicated to public service, others may be attracted to a well-paying job (with authority, from which it is difficult to get fired. And here resides a weakness of the system: police rarely face real consequences for their abuses, due to the legal leeway that they need to perform their jobs in an excessively armed society, the blue wall that even “good cops” abide by, and police unions. The latter presents a tricky conundrum since any policy needs to balance worker protections and accountability.

We can seize the moment to enact significant changes in the recruitment, training, funding, and oversight of policing in this country. There are two components to effecting change. One of them is strong political action, which requires broad consensus, and electoral victories. The evolution of public opinion over Black Lives Matter has been quick and positive over the past few years, but we still must be careful in our messaging not to alienate potential allies. While some of the more radical slogans could be rationally justified, they are likely to be misunderstood, often on purpose.

Protests are the other component. People are generally resistant to change. Platitudes from politicians calling to come together may sound appealing, but they are a prelude to perpetuating the status quo. Protest is what has brought social change to America. In an ideal world, it would be peaceful. However, violent expressions of anger or subversion by opportunistic elements are not enough to diminish their legitimacy since there is no alternative. Beyond Black Lives Matter, the protests are about reinventing American democracy, but given the particular history of this country, equality has to start with racial justice. I did not join in due to coronavirus concerns for my elderly in-laws who live with us, but I am proud that my daughter went. To everyone who marched for justice and equality, I want to say thank you for bravely taking the risks to make your voices heard. We’ve already seen positive change, and I hope that the year 2020 finishes better than it started.

Photos: Southern Poverty and Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama. Selma-Montgomery march memorial and Brown Chapel, Selma, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site Visitor Center, Atlanta, Georgia. National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Selma, Alabama. Birth Home of Martin Luther King Jr, Atlanta, Georgia. Does the sequence make any sense?


  1. Hi Q.T.
    Yes, the sequence makes perfect sense to me. I love that you continue
    to write about photography and your travels but I also love that you
    took the time to write about Black Lives Matters. You gave us a nice
    historical perspective from your life. Living in Minneapolis for all
    my 66 years has really made Black Lives Matters personal for me, heart
    breaking! It has really opened my eyes to not just seeing but listening
    and understanding what I can.
    Keep up the great work,

  2. Rita says:

    Hi! Living in India the scenario is very different,here too people are very vocal about issues plaguing the Nation.
    My visits to America was an eye opener in many respects.My second visit was related to a dream of a place in New Mexico.It was three decades back when I did not have a computer so my brother in law had to do a lot of verification at that time as he was the only person with a computer in the USA.

    After a lot of research on his part he unearthed the dream place that I had described and planned for my visit there.I was dumbstruck when I saw this place and the iconic architecture living in India in my dream in a place whose name I had not heard ever before.

    It may sound highly unbelievable, I did tell about my dream to many at that time .Many said the reality of the dreampkace to exist gave them goosebumps, no access to computers then not even my sister all there was the first inventions of computers starting software those days in my brother in laws office and waiting for some information on weekends.

    I also realized that I had a strong affinity for Native American places and culture as you might have seen from some souvenir pics I sent you.

    That is also one of the main reasons I used to be fascinated by your Nat.Parks photos and if you recall when I first saw your images on google plus I immediately congratulated you on the prize winning Treasured Lands.
    I still remember the vibrant cover of your book.
    I have entered my journaling diary and some significant information related to that.

    On Black lives Matter….the situation is important as identity expression alongside unity and uniformity is entwined.

    For me I find itd8fficult to fathom how the discrimination exists as the country is the most advanced Nation .
    In school many decades back when Emancipation Proclamation was a part of a chapter in my English book ,my fascination for Abraham Lincoln drew me to read about him in Classics in the school library.

    I did an essay on him and scored the highest in that paper then way back many,many decades.

    George Washington and Martin Luther King ,I read about them later.
    The Black Lives Matter diagram seems significant,as it has turned a whole circle ,stunning the way you portrayed the black background and juxtaposing black and white photos with the present scenario .

    I think you have covered very significantly and from the heart the Nat.Parks and the present situation in a spectacular manner.

    That is most important to let the heart express through images and words .
    My family are well.Hope your family is also doing great.

    Congratulations on the new award.

    It is good that you are able to go to the Parks.Here the lockdown is still on.


    It is a long,long story….

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