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.

5 Responses to “When The Photo You Want To Use For Your Blog Post Belongs To A Racist Photographer”

  1. Kelly February 28, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    This piece has turned my stomach as well.
    I think what I’m left with is this: a photograph captures a moment in time and speaks far beyond that moment. It is people who place meaning based on their own ideals. How this man could turn the message around baffles me.
    Those of us who clearly see the reality of being black in America will always see that photo as a powerful message against oppression and for black unity. Others will twist it into something hateful.
    “What we see depends upon what we look for.”
    Well done, as always, Wendy Jane

  2. Miriam Diaz-Gilbert February 28, 2018 at 10:30 am #

    Wow! Thanks for sharing that encounter. It reminds me of an anonymous hand-written note I received after I conducted a Spanish for direct patient contact workshop for a group of healthcare workers sent by their employers.

    The note is dated 11-6-91. It reads as follows: “Why don’t you teach your Spanish people English!!! I recent you and your Spanish patients who have been in America collecting our welfare for years and make no effort to become American!!! Then you want me to learn Spanish!!! I intend to gather my friends in protest!!!

    I was taken aback when I read this letter but I was not surprised.

    Another time I am conducting a series of full-day cross-cultural sensitivity workshops at a hospital with a diverse patient and worker population. As attendees sent by their employer enter the conference room, a woman comes in wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with the following in bold black letters: Welcome to America! Now Speak English!

    In moments like this, you quietly diffuse the situation with a smile and an invite. I extended a welcome to her with a handshake. Then I asked her to help me. I invited her to be my assistant in the afternoon session with the videotaping of role-play situations. She agreed.

    The day went really well. The participants were engaged and learning about each other, from each other, and how to better care for their patients regardless of race, age, ethnicity, etc.

    At the end of the long day, I collected the workshop evaluations. Many came up to me to thank me for a wonderful experience. My assistant with the bright yellow shirt, comes up to me and says with a smile, “I just want to say how much I learned today. I’m going to tell everyone in Security to come to your workshops. I’m going to read everything you gave us. This is a great workshop.” (she is a white security guard at the hospital).” I never expected this.

    “Thank you. I’m glad. And thank you for being my assistant. You did a great job filming,” I say.

    Another attendee says to her, “And how could you wear that t-shirt?” And I say, “Where did you buy that shirt. I’ve never seen one like that.’ And she says, “I had it especially made for today. It was stupid. I’ll never wear this shirt again.” “Curious, I ask, “How much did it cost?” “$30.” “Wow, not a good use of money,” I say with a chuckle. And we all laughed. She extends her hand to me in gratitude and we shake. She had been transformed.

    There are encounters that surprise us and horrify us. Your encounter with the racist photographer and my encounters with a racist/bigoted security guard and angry letter writer. This is not how you and I treat others. While we are saddened to see such behavior, we can use these encounters to educate by example.

    Still, I wonder how many of his/her friends the angry letter writer rounded up in protest. I wonder if one of the friends said to him/her – “How could you write that letter – anonymous or not?”

    I did this for 10 years as a small business owner while raising my children. It became mentally draining – the hatred exhibited by some adults. Twenty-six years later the struggle remains. But if we impact one person, if one person is transformed, it is a victory and a source of hope.

    Continue to do what you do Wendy! ~ Miriam

    • Wendy Jane March 1, 2018 at 6:05 pm #

      Hi Miriam,

      Wow, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me. You engaged with that woman with such grace, and it worked out that you and she shook hands, and she was, clearly, transformed by your generosity of spirit, and like you say, that act of inviting her in instead of calling her out. I am sorry about that letter you received. That is wonderful work that you did, and I can see how it would be mentally draining, too, though.

      Keep doing what you are doing, too!


  3. Sherry Gordon March 15, 2018 at 4:52 pm #

    Dear Wendy Jane,

    Well, hi, there, Wendy Jane and greetings and salutations to you and to you AND FOR VERY ESPECIALLY FOR YOU FOR ALWAYS, my awesomely precious and dearly special FOR ALWAYS soul sistahfriend who you’re FOR ALWAYS so, so very much!!!!! WOW, sistah, WOW Here!!!! WOW, do I so, so very much love and cherish YOU, my sweet sistahfriend, and I so APPRECIATE YOU, Wendy Jane, and your so, so very dear and precious, special heart and spirit!!!! I am totally and completely inspired by YOU, my so, so very dear, dearest, daring friend, and I am just so moved and touched in my very heart and spirit by your sheer courage in challenging and confronting this racist photographer as YOU truly live by your principles and your deep and special, precious love for us as your very own black sistahs and brothahs and with your unwavering commitment to being a dedicated and indomitable white anti-racist woman and ally who speaks out when she sees and hears racism from racist people!!!! WOW, Wendy Jane, YOU ARE just absolutely AWESOME, and it is so, so very right on, wondrously wonderful white women like you, sister, who keep this black woman keep on keeping on with my sweetly abiding and enduring positive optimism in keeping my very faith and hope alive, my sistah and friend!!!!!! 🙂 <3 I truly appreciate how you were so brave despite your discomfort when this vile man seemed like he was going to jump through your telephone and verbally accost you and how you were disturbed, concerned, and frightened by his evil and abusive behavior yet you took the necessary time you needed and then braved your way through that challenge with this horrid man!!!!!! AWWWWWWW, my so, so very sweet white sistah, I thank-YOU, thank-YOU, thank-YOU-YOU as usual as always once again have our backs as your so, so very dearest and darling, precious black sistahs and brothahs even when it can be uncomfortable to deal with people of this ilk, sistah!!!!!! 🙂 <3 WOW!!!!! YOU ARE just the very greatest and the very best, Wendy Jane, and YOU ARE OUR VERY OWN!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 <3 I just so, so very much love and cherish YOU, sistah, and I so appreciate how you continue to learn how to wrap your brain around how nothing is as simple as all or nothing. YOU ARE just so, so very open to learning, wanting, willing, able, and ready to try as you try so, so very hard in such a diligently conscientious manner, Wendy Jane!!!!!! 🙂 <3 WOW, I cannot say enough and I cannot find the words to tell you, sistah, just how so, so very many superlatives I have FOR YOU, sistah!!!!!! Sistahfriend, YOU give me such courage, such hope, such faith, and INSPIRATION, sister!!!!!! 🙂 <3 WOW, sisterfriend, Wendy Jane, You're doing just great writing with your very empowering blogging more and more!!!!!! 🙂 <3 WOW!!!!! AWESOME, Wendy Jane!!!!! 🙂 <3 Sistah, I'm just so, so very thrilled, overjoyed, glad, and happy that you were able to find another photograph and what a powerful one it is for certain, Wendy Jane!!!!!! 🙂 <3 I just love it so!!!!!! WOW, does it perfectly add to and complement this very engaging and endearing blog post article here to the very heights of perfection, sister!!!!!! 🙂 <3 Sisterfriend, the title of this very fine and excellent blog post article is just perfect, absolutely perfect with this picture-perfect picture accompanying it and just all in all I love this very relevant blog post article all in all in its great entirety, Wendy Jane!!!!! WOW!!!!! 🙂 <3

    Sistah, I'm just so, so very glad to be FINALLY writing my very heartfelt, detailed, and thorough response with all of my thoughts, ideas, and comments for YOU, sister, and to your awesome blog, Wendy Jane!!!!! 🙂 <3 Even though I've been struggling with not feeling so well it is just WONDERFUL people like YOU, sisterfriend, with our sistahhood and friendship and our love and the love from other spectacular people who help me to cope with this and even though I moaning with my very bad, permanent chronic physical disabilities and with the very bad, permanent, chronic pain I still have a smile on my face all of the time despite it all and I stay as every positive and optimistic because I have super people in my very life and in my very heart like YOU, sistah and friend of mine, Wendy Jane, and you all just keep me going somehow!!!!!! WOW, I thank-YOU, thank-YOU, thank-YOU, Wendy Jane!!!!!! 🙂 <3 YOU give me such joy and blessing to my life that no matter what I am dealing with my physical medical health I know that I can somehow make it through somehow, Wendy Jane!!!!!! 🙂 <3 YOU ARE my very life's and eternal blessing, Wendy Jane!!!!! WOW!!!!! YAY!!!!!! I thank-YOU and God continually FOR YOU, Wendy Jane, AND for your very presence in my very life!!!!!! WOW!!!! YAY!!!!! YAY for YOU, Wendy Jane!!!!! YAY for our very sistahhood and friendship, Wendy Jane!!!!! WOW!!!!!! YAY!!!!!! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!!! Sister, Spirit so, so very much loves and cherishes YOU A WHOLE LOT AND SO DO I A WHOLE LOT AND A WHOLE BUNCH, TOO!!!!!! 🙂 <3 Please have such a totally terrific and a very thrilling Thursday, a wondrously wonderful weekend ahead, and may all of your very days be so, so very especially blessed, sistah!!!!!! 🙂 <3 I just love you so, so very much and cherish you, Wendy Jane!!!!!! 🙂 <3

    Very Warmly and Sincerely FOR ALWAYS, my awesomely special and dearly precious FOR ALWAYS soul sistahfriend white woman who you're FOR ALWAYS SO, SO VERY MUCH, Wendy Jane, sisterfriend of mine, with My and Spirit's VERY PEACE AND LOVE FOR YOU FOR ALWAYS, sister of mine, and with SUCH BLESSINGS AND SUCH VERY EVEN MORE BLESSINGS FOR YOU FOR ALWAYS, friend of mine, 🙂 <3

    YOURS FOR ALWAYS soul sistahfriend black woman AND FOR ALWAYS IN THE VERY GREAT SPIRIT OF UNITY AND SOLIDARITY, Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa 🙂 <3

    • Wendy Jane March 15, 2018 at 5:04 pm #

      Hi Sherry,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and respond, as you always do with so much care and thoughtfulness. And, yes, you know it, sister, that I had to address this man, and I know you would have, too, in your special way of handling your interactions with others, but wow, it would have been great if the two of us could have taken him on–he would be overwhelmed by our super anti-racism fighting powers, and perhaps we could have healed him from his ugliness in the way he saw the world.

      You never complain, and I’m inspired, like I always tell you, by your positivity, and all the encouragement you give me.

      Sending healing hugs and love, sisterfriend!

      Wendy Jane

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