I woke up this morning and saw a picture on the cover of the New York Times of an obviously African black woman lying on the ground. There is one little bird, standing by the corner of the sheet, looking at her as if to say that everything is not going to be alright. To confirm the message of the picture the article begins by describing the woman’s condition.
Mrs. Sesay was sick. She had breast cancer in a form that Western doctors rarely see anymore – the tumor had burst through her skin, looking like a putrid head of cauliflower weeping small amounts of blood at its edges. (Donald G. McNeil Jr., NYT. 10 September 2007. Drugs Banned, World's Poor Suffer in Pain.)
I found the expression of disgust at the grossness of the description and the sadness of the situation stuck on my face. Even as I write this now it has returned. This woman’s face could be my grandmother’s face. There are several women in my family and my wife’s that resemble her. What bothers me most is the constant reinforcement of the link between a face like hers – that is reflected in us - and intolerable pain. The title of the article is, “…World’s Poor Suffer in Pain.” I look at this picture and my face contorts. I won’t speak of what it does to my heart, but the imagery is damning. I would be deceiving myself if I did not think that the connection between images of black people and bad things in general were not being quietly sewn together in my psyche. When you skip onto page A12 you find the following picture of a woman holding her young son who had been burned with boiling water.
The point of the article was to say that families like her’s, poor black people, cannot even get morphine to ease their pain. We are then left to imagine what it must be like to have a 2 or 3 year old child, as I do, and have her be burned with scalding hot water all over her body and not be able to offer her anything for the pain. I do not underestimate the quiet and incremental contribution to the relationship between black people and pain that this article has made in me. The imagery is so powerful that it must be having an effect.
This morning’s story comes on the heals of a local news story last night about a set of young black boys that vandalized a daycare center. They broke into the building and just destroyed it. My wife had tears in her eyes as she watched it. I could only imagine that she was thinking about how could our children, black children, become so mean. They poured paint over the computers for the children, broke the tables and threw the little chairs all over the place. They even defecated and smeared their feces on the walls and windows and urinated on the toys. The image associated with this was a meeting of the children’s parents – a room full of black women crying and wondering what evil had befallen them and what they would do with their children while the center recovered from the damage.
That whole story is in the context of an incessant barrage of pictures of ridiculous looking young black boys as legislation is being discussed in
Reality is what it is – but damn this imagery. Had those boys not done what they did, there would be no story. There would be no association between them, their image and such reprehensible behavior. Similarly, the convergence of western exploitation and domestic corruption in
The images of us are tilted so heavily in the direction of things bad that it is hard to find balance. It is becoming difficult for me to pit the positive imagery of my personal experience against the wave of negative images that I am confronted with and still expect not be deeply wounded.