May 6, 2015

On the Viral Photo of the Baltimore Girl and the National Guardsman (and the Portland "Ferguson Hug")

Two and a half million views — just on Reddit alone. And the primary sentiment? Quoting friekman:

“That’s… quite sweet.”

That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of commenters like ElPoloDiablo who wrote:

“The sad part is, this picture reminds me of Iraq a few years ago. Man, this is America. What have we done to ourselves? How did we get here?”

I like Amanda’s response, Amanda of MandaWritesThings, who took the photo. (He’s a backgrounder.) Briefly though, she said:

“Everyone thinks this picture is cute. I took it, and I think it’s tragic…. It was sad for the National Guardsmen because they had to be there, it was sad for Baltimore. And it was sad to explain to your children what’s going on.”

There are several things that stand out for me about the photo, themes that also echo through Reddit. One is how both figures seem like children … which raises that much more concern about the state. Another (and the Reddit commenters were all over this), is how Rawlings, the sports manufacturer, apparently also makes riot gear. If you follow this site, in particular, you know how blurred the line is between sport and war. Then, the fact the gun (even with the safety on) is even obliquely pointed in the direction of the girl speaks to how little daylight there is in our society between black children, state violence and also fearsome weaponry.

I was also taken with the parallel between this Baltimore photo and the one that went viral during the Ferguson protests, that one generally pulling heartstrings, too. It’s not just cozying up to the man. It’s the representation of the man as father or brother while the African-American, infantilized, finds him or herself in the hands of the state.

(photo 1: Amanda Moore / MandaWritesThings. photo 2: Johnny Nguyen/Special to the Oregonian.  caption: Sgt. Bret Barnum (left) and Devonte Hart take pause amid an otherwise hectic Ferguson rally in Portland earlier this week.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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