BXP Photos + Words

Tragedy and possiblity in a single frame

We had canceled today's work day at East End because there was rain in the forecast. Richmond got some, but not much. Just drizzle. So Erin and I went out. First, we hauled a plastic tub and a trash bag filled with empty malt liquor and beer bottles—a gift from anonymous, shameless party animals—out of the brush-only dumpster. Mark and Karen stopped by, gathered the bottles, and after a play session with Willow and Teacake, took them home to be recycled.

When we finished, Erin migrated toward an area in the old section of the cemetery that she had started clearing a couple of years ago. She gloved up and set to work.

I stopped to look at temporary—or courtesy—markers. There are hundreds, of various types in varied states. Many of the aluminum ones, most under 50 years old, are in decent shape. Everything is metal, even the raised letters, so they tend to last, unless some grinds them up with a lawn mower (as has happened at neighboring Evergreen).

Older markers are metal frames with glass windows. Under the glass, a slip of paper with the deceased's name, date of death, the name of the funeral home, maybe more, if they could fit it. A precious few of these slips are still legible. Most are not. Water and time have dissolved them. Some of these empty frames were planted in plots that also have headstones. Perhaps the stone was set and the courtesy marker not removed. We can assume, but can't know. Often, there's just the busted metal frame.

These, to me, are among the most tangible, powerful reminders that much of this community's history has been destroyed, allowed to disintegrate and disappear. This is tragic, largely because it did not have to be so. But this is the afterlife of Jim Crow, as Erin puts it.

But there is something else. In this same moment, in this same frame, I see possibility. Like the headstones, many of the metal markers had been enmeshed in tangles of greenbrier, English ivy, and Virginia creeper or covered in soil from decades of erosion. We see the markers because we, the volunteers, have revealed them; the ground in which they were planted has been cleared. We may never learn who that marker was placed for, but we can still honor that nameless person by continuing to reclaim the land from nature and a community's stories from obscurity. —BP

7 April 2018

 

 

 

 

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: Facing Race 2016, Atlanta, GA

 Michelle Alexander (third from left;  The New Jim Crow ) and other conference attendees listen to a speaker at Facing Race 2016 before the plenary session, "Multiracial Movement for Black Lives." To her right are Isa Noyola ( Transgender Law Center ) and Alicia Garza ( National Domestic Workers Alliance  and #BlackLivesMatter), Atlanta, GA, 11 November

Michelle Alexander (third from left; The New Jim Crow) and other conference attendees listen to a speaker at Facing Race 2016 before the plenary session, "Multiracial Movement for Black Lives." To her right are Isa Noyola (Transgender Law Center) and Alicia Garza (National Domestic Workers Alliance and #BlackLivesMatter), Atlanta, GA, 11 November

I arrived in Atlanta for the Facing Race conference, convened by Race Forward, the day after the presidential election. I spent the next three+ days immersed in a sea of attendees, 2,300 souls, making photographs of events, interactions, and quiet moments to the best of my ability. There was listening, talking, sharing, crying, brainstorming, debating, arguing, connecting—and yes, eating, dancing, and laughing. It was therapy and inspiration.

 Michelle Alexander ( The New Jim Crow ) speaks at Facing Race 2016 plenary session, "Multiracial Movement for Black Lives." Atlanta, GA, 11 November

Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) speaks at Facing Race 2016 plenary session, "Multiracial Movement for Black Lives." Atlanta, GA, 11 November

Please take a look at the photos. This is who we are.  Follow the links in the captions to learn about speakers and the organizations they represent. They organize for justice—justice for all, not just some. It was a big tent, so to speak, with all races, ages, sexual orientations, levels of mobility, ethnicities, nationalities, and I was happy and proud to have a place in it.

The Grunts & Major General Mattis, 9 July 2004

 Major General James N. Mattis briefs Marines about to convoy north to Babil province, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

Major General James N. Mattis briefs Marines about to convoy north to Babil province, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

Major General James N. Mattis figured out that there might be civilian news media—me—in his briefing a few minutes in. That didn’t seem to inhibit him. He kept on talking like a grunt to grunts who would soon convoy north from Camp Virginia, Kuwait, into Iraq. I didn’t audio-record Mattis’s brief to Battalion Landing Team 1/2 (1st Battalion/2d Marines), but I did jot down his most noteworthy statements.

"The enemy will try to make you racists."

"In a war sometimes bad things happen.”

"We are going to kill and kill and kill—not the innocent, only the enemy—until they are sick of this war."

He quoted Geronimo, but I didn’t get that.

Mattis told the men that the people in their new area of operations were "95% friendly."

"Do not allow yourself to hate these people who had the mistake of being born in this country at this time,” he continued.

 Men of Battalion Landing Team 1/2 (1st Battalion/2d Marines) listen to brief by Major General James N. Mattis, commanding general 1st Marine Division and Multi National Force–West, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

Men of Battalion Landing Team 1/2 (1st Battalion/2d Marines) listen to brief by Major General James N. Mattis, commanding general 1st Marine Division and Multi National Force–West, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

About the forces that the Marines would engage in-country, Mattis told them, "they mean every word when they say they hate you.... All they know is hatred. Your job is to kill them. I'm not into you taking a lot of prisoners...."

"We do not become animals. We do not lose our humanity. We don't lose our discipline."

Of the Iraqi National Guard, he said: "A few of them are treacherous bastards, but most of them are on our side."

"You are the most radical dudes in the world,” he told the men, in perhaps his first ungruntly moment. "Keep your sense of humor. It's like a flak jacket around your spirit."

 Major General James N. Mattis briefs Marines about to convoy north to Babil province, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

Major General James N. Mattis briefs Marines about to convoy north to Babil province, Camp Virginia, Kuwait, 9 July 2004

This was July 9, 2004, a little over two months after the 1st Battle of Fallujah (aka Operation Vigilant Resolve), a bloody harbinger (an estimated 600 Iraqis were killed, 1,000 wounded; 30 U.S. Marines were killed), which itself was precipitated by the ambush, killing, and desecration of four Blackwater mercenaries in that city.

"Although a tenuous cease-fire continues in effect for Fallujah,” reads a 2009 report by the USMC's History Division, “the Shi’a [al-Sadr] militia begin spreading violence to several other cities, including parts of Baghdad, Kut, Karbala, and Najaf.” The cities of north Babil—Iskandariyah, Musayyib, Haswah, and other which these Marine would patrol—weren’t on that list. They would be soon. Mattis, commanding general of 1st Marine Division and Multi National Force–West, was sending these men—and a number of women who served with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s support group—into this violence. Marines would be killed, and Marines would kill.

You’ll hear and read that Marines revere him. I saw and heard that. I still do. Mattis is a man of substance—not simply a “mad dog,” a nickname apparently bestowed on him by the troops after Fallujah, but also a “warrior monk.” But is this the substance we need in a Secretary of Defense, “the principal defense policy adviser to the President,” who is responsible for the formulation of general defense policy” and all things DOD? That’s a question for which I don’t yet have an answer.

VOCAL-NY at Abyssinian Baptist Church, NY, NY