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E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems

Month

June 2015

Models Monday: Look Closely…

…these people are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Thank you, Bree Newsom and James Ian Tyson for exposing these faces of lethal ill-will.

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Models Monday: The Confederate Flag’s Stark Simplicity

No American can claim that the Confederate Flag testifies to their proud “Southern Heritage” and be committed to freedom, truth, justice, equality, and democracy. All Americans who make such a claim in support of this flag are dangerous people because they are irrational. These people have mistaken an advertisement concocted in New York as the basis of their longing for a return to this “bucolic way of life,” lack credibility. History exposes the savagery of enslaving black people as it “flashes up at a moment of danger.” When “outside agitators” fuel outrage in response to police officers murdering a black man, the language alone recalls the same words used in justifying white supremacy and exemplifies Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history as recognition of past events in the present. When white men whose job involves service and protection justify shooting two unarmed black people 137 times, failing to render aid to a 12-year-old black boy after shooting him without warning as well as in rendering aid to a black man guilty of selling individual cigarettes, history’s presence is found in the illogical fear of unarmed black people and in the impromptu theater, the spectacle, of staging this unmerciful scene. When a white boy walks into a black church and makes himself at home there before proceeding to kill his hosts because “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country,” history emerges through the recitation of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Council to justify lethal assault. There is nothing complicated about flying the Confederate Flag. That flag underscores the maintenance of the past in the present.

When Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina, defended the Confederate flag’s place on statehouse grounds because she:

spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to [South Carolina and] can honsestly say [that she has] not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag,

I knew I was living during the same time as my elders who were enslaved and those who were treated as second-class citizens under the dictates of Jim Crow. Though dishonest, deficient, and mostly illiterate interpretations of the Christian bible was the grounding text for Jim Crow, the bible is a solid choice. This foolish woman, this modern symbol of transformation, uses the worst text ever to justify white supremacy. Who looks to greedy CEOs for moral guidance? Also, Haley thinks that highlighting good darkies who were appointed or elected officials as evidence of Southern change makes good sense. Haley offers her Indian American heritage as proof of racial progress. This weak sample reminds me of the insight I gained from an Indian American woman who described being mistaken for the IT tech when she entered professional spaces. Soon after that, she and I shared the experience of having her co-panelist enact this very thing when she experienced trouble with the projector during her presentation. Haley appears clueless about how dark skin functions in professional spaces. She thinks her colleagues see her as an equal and not as the head IT girl in charge. I’m sure they just walk into her office and tell her what to say, what to write, and what to think. In fact, I’m pretty sure that any person in her professional environment without dark skin believes that they can also order Haley around. Coincidentally, Haley shifted her stance on the flag an hour ago; someone on her staff must have told her to. Nonetheless, Haley recalls Margaret Mitchell’s construction of amused white slaveholders whose trusted help confused escaping the lash as evidence of trust, respect, and authority. Instead, the professed amusement soothed slaveholders’ anxiety regarding their power to suppress the personhood of their chattel.

People who embrace the confederate flag as a symbol of pride scare me. I understand that flag through my ancestors. They knew what to do with the information they read in the details of a world where they were prey. As someone who understands history through both Benjamin and Marx (as well as Freud), I accept the materiality of the past within current moments. To that end, the Confederate flag means defiance; it means depraved indifference towards black life; it means denouncing longstanding, acute readings that have helped black people fully live in a nation committed to their subjugation. Accepting the Confederate flag as a complicated symbol wastes intellectual energy and actual time. It symbolizes hatred and intolerance…it’s really that simple.

Given that this is public and not private writing, I expect engagement. I fully admit my bias against arguments made in defense of that flag. I’ll “approve” the comment through WordPress because whatever hate mail I receive should be a matter of public record. Given such bias, I won’t waste my time trying to reason with one’s faith in white supremacy; that’s a fool’s errand.

“Ballad of Birmingham”

“Mother dear, may I go downtown

instead of out to play, 

and march the streets of Birmingham

in a freedom march today?”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,

for the dogs are fierce and wild,

and clubs and hoses, guns and jails

ain’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.

Other children will go with me, 

and march the streets of Birmingham

to make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,

for I fear those guns will fire.

But you may go to church instead,

and sing in the children’s choir.

She has combed and brushed her nightdark hair,

and bathed rose petal sweet,

and drawn white glove on her small brown hands, 

and white shoes on her feet. 

The mother smiled to know her child 

was in the sacred place,

but that smile was the last smile

to come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion

her eyes grew wet and wild. 

She raced through the streets of Birmingham

calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,

then lifted out a shoe.

“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, 

but, baby, where are you?”

-Dudley Randall

Resonant

Jon Stewart offers a resonant reading of U.S. history. Simply put, the massacre at Mother Emanuel constitutes racial terrorism. Denials issued across social media, through conservative news outlets and the cautious language of liberals concerning the potency of racism in the United States conveyed through Dylann Roof’s heinous act confirms Stewart’s pessimistic conclusion:

Charleston Church Shooting

“My God! We aren’t even safe at church,” Anonymous black woman after the 16th Street Church Bombing; 1963-2015.

The “clean-shaven white man about 21 years old who was wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans and Timberland boots” who opened fire yesterday at Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 17 marks a return to the past violence targetting the church. Charged with plotting a slave revolt, Denmark Vesey, a founding member of Emanuel, was executed with 35 others. In the midst of hundreds of arrests and brutal executions, Emanuel was set ablaze in the 1820s. Black people rebuilt the church in 1834…and nine people died while attending a prayer meeting at Emanuel on June 17 for exercising their right to live freely and to pray.

Is There Mercy for Black Children in Schools

In viewing Jason Gilmore’s short film, I was particularly attuned to the bureaucratic, institutional language used to describe Xavier. These terms estranged him from the human compassion and concern that all children benefit from. My son is six-years-old. He’s smart. He’s black. He’s sweet. There have been times, in his few years in school, when the descriptions that I’m given of him and the voice used to mimic his turns him into someone I don’t recognize. My son has the support, stability, and critical consciousness of his parents at his disposal, but I remain skeptical of his safety even still. Black children are so, so vulnerable to the historic cruelties found throughout U.S. culture.

 

Models Monday: Meaning

I have become a Pinterest fanatic. I have over 30 Boards and more than 960 Pins. Pinterest helps me visually reify abstract ideas into neat categories. Many of the ideas conveyed here on this blog also appear on my Boards. Thus, I have categorized images according to themes of beauty, reflection, mourning and loss, kindness, as well as the possibility for living by other models that could make for a good life.

Pinterest keeps track of who follows your site, the work of your followers, and the pins copied from your Boards. The most commonly captured pin from my Boards is this Bill Eppridge photograph of Ben Chaney: epperidge_06

Little Ben Chaney sits erect in the family car as it proceeds to the funeral of his older brother James. James Chaney was one of three civil rights workers killed during Freedom Summer in 1964. The commonly used flyer depicted below features photographs of the three men:

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Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in Nashoba County, Mississippi in 1964,
I certainly find the photograph of Ben Chaney terribly sad. It highlights the human wreckage of racial violence as it reverberates beyond any singlular person’s death. Eppridge has suggested that the power of the photograph stems from the wealth of possible meanings in little Ben’s eyes. I wonder if the people who repin this image are doing so for the reason Eppridge suggests; they’re compelled by the meaning held in the boy’s eyes. I don’t know what folk think because they rarely comment and I never do the work of determining  where the pin lands.

Personally, this Eppridge photograph matters to me because of its precision. To me, Ben Chaney appears certain about what this moment in his life means. Despite the family surrounding him, Ben’s position amidst them conveys his understanding that in his grief, as it impacts his unique life experience, he is entirely alone. What I’ve learned from reflecting on my own investment in specific images is the clear, crisp statements they make that grips me rather than questions provoked. To that end, there are photographs of children depicted in the aftermath of war who sit crying amidst the rubble that interest me because of a general claim that they make about the cost of war. Then there are other photographs of children depicted in the aftermath of war who have an interpretation of war’s cost. As a companion to Eppridge’s photograph of Ben Chaney, the photograph captured of an orphan girl in Iraq conveys an enthralling truth, a knowing, that deeply compels me. The unnamed Iraqi photographer who captured this image of an unnamed little girl who has never seen her mom illustrates my investment in this experience of encountering truth:

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According to what I’ve read, the child drew an outline of a mother on the ground and fell asleep cuddled inside her. This little girls knows the experience of loss and can tell you about what being orphaned feels like. She can tell you about her desire to feel comforted and to feel protected in the body of her mother. For some of us who search for meaning, the quest in itself is thrilling. For others who have the kind of knowing that little Ben Chaney and the little orphaned girl possess makes me wonder if I ever want to actually know the truth, the meaning of life, or if I’d rather spend all my days questing.

Well Done Beau Biden, 1969-2015

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“Say she rose as light as a bird”

“Don’t Be Afraid to Fly” Mocada-museum.tumblr.com, ‘Mocada’. N. p., 2015.

They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbin up on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields. Black, shiny wings flappin against the blue up there.

“The People Could Fly,” as told by Virginia Hamilton

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