Tuesday, September 6, 2016
I am a man
I'm writing about America at the moment and came across this image today during some research into the civil rights movement, which I couldn't leave behind. I hadn't seen it before.
The sharpness of those bayonets - because a bullet is not weapon enough - got to me, as did the steady hand and focus of the men pointing them at close range at the men merely walking past, with their simple protest: I am a man hanging from their necks, but otherwise unarmed. Indeed it's the guys with the guns who are wearing the protective head gear. And let's not mention the Tienanmen Square-like tanks.
All this in the so called heart of the free world, and in the 1960s, when black American men were fighting and dying for the US in their thousands in Vietnam.
The white guy doesn't need the sign; the world knows he is a man. That is pointed too. He looks at the soldiers, a casual, even smiling challenge on his face, while his black comrades look away, defiant and a little afraid.
They're all men, yes, but in this picture it is clear that only the men wearing the signs really know what that means.
The I am a man protest goes back as far as the 1780s in Britain and America, but in America, the most recent police shootings of unarmed black men, and ongoing imprisonment of black men at a much higher rate than white men, suggest that that country still hasn't worked out what it is to be a man.
To be man, surely, is not to kill or threaten to kill, bearing a weapon against unarmed people, but to fight with words and courage for the right to live freely.
That's what this picture says to me. Lest we forget.