When The Photo You Want To Use For Your Blog Post Belongs To A Racist Photographer

28 Feb

Young Protestors, Ferguson, Missouri, Photo credit: IB Times

I wanted to find a lead photo to go with my most recent blog post, Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence, and I wanted the photo to represent black and brown youth who cried out in pain over the unjust deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Trayvon Martin in Florida, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland. I wanted to represent the black and brown youth who have worried for years about gun violence in their neighborhoods, and have had to carry a fear heavier than their backpacks, as they pray to make it to and from school without being shot. I wanted to represent the black and brown youth who have been crying out for years when no one was watching or listening. Though the nation watched on television only when the protests took to the streets in Ferguson, and in Baltimore, there has never been the swell of support like we see now for the young people in Florida who have risen up in the midst of the Parkland school shooting. And, while I, and as I have gleaned that many black people and people of color, too, have great admiration and stand by these rising, young activists, the lack of inclusion of the gun violence issues faced by black and brown young people in their communities is sadly noted.

As I searched online for the photo to accompany the post, I found one of young black children with a placard that read, We Are The Village. It was a deep and beautiful photograph. I downloaded it. I looked up the photographer, who turned out to be a white man, and emailed him through his website to ask permission to use the photograph. Then I searched his site because he seemed to be a prolific artist–a photographer, journalist, and author. I clicked on his Essays tab, and landed on a piece he wrote, titled, The Negro Racist. I began to read:

(written in 2007/reposted in January 2018)

“While it is forbidden to bring this topic up, Negro racism is a real and dominant reality. Negro racism arises from that segment of the Negro community that subscribes to the culture of victimization. Playing on White guilt, the Negro racist justifies his position by portraying himself as the helpless victim of White oppression. Negro Racism manifests in two different forms, direct and subtle.”

My stomach turned and twisted. He went on to give examples of “negro racists” such as Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, and talked about the bad attitudes of “negros.”

I immediately emailed him back and stated that I didn’t wish to use his photo. I did not give an explanation. The next morning he replied. Here is the chain of emails:

ME: Hello Mr. _____, (I don’t want to dignify him by naming him)

I came across one of your images online–an image of young people protesting in Ferguson following the death of Mike Brown. I write a small blog on cross-racial connections, race and anti-racism work from a personal perspective, and wanted to know if it would be okay with you for me to use that image, We Are The Village, in the blog post? I will credit your name and can link to your website, as well.  I plan on posting tomorrow, and will take the photo down immediately if you are not in agreement with me featuring it.  You can find the blog at www.wendyjanesoulshake.com.

Thanks very much for your consideraton, and for the great work you are doing.

Best wishes,
Wendy Grossman

 ME: Hello again, I just contacted you for photo permission, but will not be using a photo of yours.
Thank you,
WendyHIM: Is your blog post about how blacks are racist towards whites? That’s what Ferguson was all about. That’s what black lives matter is all about. If that what is what your blood post is about you can use the photo with full credit and a link back to my website. If it’s about how blacks are always oppressed by whites, I’m not really wanting my photos used for propagandaHIM: Yes that’s fine I don’t want people using my photos for cultural Marxist propaganda. If you want to tell the truth about race, which I don’t think you’re really into, that would be a different storyI had opened these emails on my phone while at work, and as I read them, I felt like the time my house got broken into when I was a kid. I felt violated. And yet, as I’ve said here before, if this is what if feels like as a white person experiencing the racism of another white person, then I  can only imagine the violation felt by Black and Brown people who experience microaggresions and racist remarks from white people all the time. If this photographer was standing in front of me I would have said something right back to him. Instead, nauseated by his hateful, ignorant statements, and feeling like he was going to jump through the phone and verbally accost me, I let the emails sit without responding. Until yesterday, six days after our initial email exchange.ME: hi, I do not consider myself a political person and don’t know enough about the different parties, like Marxism to call myself one. Can you explain how you come to take some beautiful photos of people of color during times of conflict and pain?HIM: Can’t really explain that. I guess I just have an eye, and I’ve always been interested in the evil of the world

ME: Thank you for replying. And so when you were taking photos in Ferguson what was the evil you saw there?

HIM: All the false and fake reporting and all the black hatred towards white people

ME:What was the fake reporting in Ferguson?  And hmmmm, hatred of black people toward white people? What do you think black people are angry and upset about?

And what about the hate that white people have toward black people ?

HIM: I don’t have time to argue with you.

ME: Hi, I didn’t think we were arguing. I thought we were trying to understand one another’s perspective. Again trying to understand how the same person who writes an essay titled Negro Racists, can take what seem to be empathetic portraits of the struggles of Black people in this country.

HIM: [Crickets]

I’m obviously not demonstrating a “Bam, in your face, call you a straight-up racist” style here, but not sure that is me anyway. I tried to pull from what was suggested in the community talks I went to that offered advice on how to have these difficult conversations about race, white person-to-white person. And, yet, of course, that doesn’t always feel right or real either. I know I, and other friends and acquaintances sometimes think, why even bother trying to be nice and understanding with someone who holds racist ideas. We’re not going to change them. They don’t deserve for us to be nice to them. But, this is the way it went down, and to try and do it differently, I feared would only be for the benefit of you all.

But the purpose of sharing this wasn’t to show how I dealt with this man. It’s to show how I still have to wrap my brain around how nothing is black and white. This man did take sensitive documentary photographs of the people and place of Ferguson, Missouri. To me, his photographs appear to be taken by someone who has a heart for the suffering of the black people of this community. But, don’t tell him that. That would probably twist his stomach the same way he twisted mine. And, perhaps, part of the moral of the story, a cautionary tale, is to make sure the photograph you are using in your blog post about racism, is not taken by a racist photographer.

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