Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.
What can I say about the photograph above?
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the definition of the word “acknowledge” is:
The featured photo was captured in Seattle during the George Floyd protests, roughly nine days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. To be clear, sometimes the protests were named after George Floyd. Other times, they were named after the Black Lives Matter movement. At that time in the late spring of 2020, they were essentially synonymous.
The photo was also captured when the coronavirus pandemic was still less than six months into its pronounced influence on the entire world, including an upended revision on the way we lived in the world as well as a jagged readjustment to how we interacted with other people. It was such a surreal time with seething tensions, anger, resentment, racism, injustice, denial — and exasperation with all of the above — boiling and overflowing nationwide. A long overdue reckoning of sorts was born.
It often feels like these protests were only a few days ago partially because, collectively, we’re still uncomfortably wafting in the wake of what happened, and trying our best to remain afloat almost two years later.
On that third day of June, I thought it was important to document the protests, which you can view in my previous blog article, “The Pandemic, The Pandemonium & The Protests”. (In retrospect, it’s uncanny how many companies had the nerve to approach me to use the photos I showcased in this earlier article for their purposes without agreeing to pay a license fee. I refused these companies each and every time. This business can be truly ridiculous sometimes).
Interestingly, despite what had occurred in Minneapolis, the new pandemic which we knew so little about at the time did not deter people from joining forces in protest. Scores of people in cities across America congregated to protest against police brutality, racism, discrimination, and the sheer ugliness of the recorded footage of Floyd’s death. I will opine that it should never be forgotten that Floyd’s murder sparked protests not only in America, but in several nations around the world.
“Acknowledge” — this week’s photo for my self-assigned photography challenge — might be my favorite photo from the protests that took place in Seattle. As I walked along the main street where the protests took place, I captured several different moments, some of which were remarkable, confounding, touching, or awe-inspiring. “Acknowledge”, for me, was all of these adjectives compiled into one emotion which probably doesn’t have a word ascribed to it in English.
I think I was facing the intersection of Pine Street and 11th Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. This was essentially ground zero of the location where a massive swarm of protesters faced off with police officers and agents dressed in riot gear just a block away from the police department’s East Precinct. Shortly after capturing the intensity of that altercation, I turned around and, almost instantaneously, I beheld my subject matter: a gigantic sign featuring the names of six black men and one black woman who had been killed by police officers. If you’ve regularly followed national news and national politics in America, the names on this sign are well-known because the nature of the listed individuals’ murders were jarring and, for so many, inexplicable and inexcusable.
However, the gigantic sign featuring the seven names in very large, bold, and legible print wasn’t the only noteworthy aspect of my subject matter. It was also the person who was carrying the sign. My memory recollects a young, white male, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties, carrying the sign prominently above his head. I’m certain our eyes met very briefly. I’m also certain my body language communicated that I had every intention to take his photograph. His face half-concealed under a mask on account of the coronavirus, he didn’t flinch and didn’t give me any inclination that he was uncomfortable. I proceeded to capture the moment.
I gave this photo and article the title “Acknowledge” because that is the action that is illustrated by this young, white male who came to the protest to make this point. Deep within my psyche, I found this display moving. Why?
Speaking for myself solely, it was momentous because he was doing what most people who look like me (a.k.a. black people) have always hoped and wanted as the first step to some form of reconciliation regarding the excruciatingly abysmal history of racial relations in America. He was acknowledging the atrocity and the injustice by simply listing a very select few names of black people (out of hundreds) who have been victims of atrocity and injustice. The fact that he was a white male also spoke volumes because, in his stance, he was silently defying stereotypes that people who look like me (yes, black people) often associate with white people as a disparaging generalization — that they are all extraordinarily ignorant and nonchalantly dismissive of the plight of black people in the United States throughout the nation’s history.
Given my own personal experiences, I do believe we (as in the human race) could collectively benefit from refraining to stereotype an entire demographic of people. Unfortunately, history and misinformation, together with our negative individual experiences, biases, and current political climate continue to impair this possibility and progress ad infinitum.
Whoever this individual was in the photo, this white guy who had his own fashion sense (or lack thereof, depending on one’s personal point of view), he arrived at the protest carrying this huge sign that was as large as himself, and he carried it for a while. I know my arms would have been strained after a while, but when you’re on a mission to get a point across, the strain may as well be a byproduct of the objective. Simply put, this person was cognizant, aware, empathetic, and informed about what this protest was about, and he took the time to come out in public to acknowledge this by his own volition.
He wasn’t the only one, as hundreds of people — predominantly white — gathered en masse to protest in Seattle for many days that June in 2020.
Gathered en masse to acknowledge.
Six articles down for the TIAA challenge. 46 remain!