Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 27, 2016

Trump Rally Wear Update: Black Guns Matter

This photo by Nate Gowdy on Instagram was taken at a Donald Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado on October 3rd, 2016. The man's t-shirt reads: Black Guns Matter.

All campaign long, countless pixels have been spent on the atmosphere, the aggression, the intimidation, and especially, the signs and the clothing of the audiences at Trump rallies.

We were fascinated by this shirt and mask last December. We’ve looked at dictatorial tendenciesterror instincts, projection and misogynistic gestures. We looked at shirts of women supporters after the Entertainment Hollywood tape came out. We even did a tweet this week having actually encountered a humorous and less hateful Trump rally t-shirt.

What we’ve said repeatedly is that signs and t-shirts have become the political sound bites and the text scroll of the social media age. That being the case, it takes a particularly notable t-shirt these days to merit its own special attention. That said, the one that Nate Gowdy recorded on Instagram from Loveland, Colorado on October 3rd surely fits that bill. I’m not sure what the woman (his wife?) has on her t-shirt, hidden as it is by her sweatshirt. (Perhaps it’s one of these?) In any case, as the center point in a 45º line of black t-shirts, between “I’m deplorable” and a UNITED states flag, is a heavy set guy in a t-shirt reading: BLACK GUNS MATTER, the word “BLACK” in a reverse field. Abetting the message is the fact that the audience, as far as I can tell, is all white, and the man (I assume he’s the father) drapes his arm around his son. In other words, the crowd and the family is united behind Trump, as much as the family, in its domestic bliss, is united by and around the message on this shirt.

If the phrase hits you like a gut punch, though, the question is: why?

First off, if you’ve never seen the phrase before (and I hadn’t), you can’t help but absorb it. These messages traffic in novelty. Of course, the practice of appropriating or big footing an identity slogan like “Black Lives Matter,” especially to trash it, is an automatic fuck you. What makes a phrase like this so scintillating to the haters, and so toxic to everyone else, however, has to do with every other meaning it dredges up.  The first and most inflammatory one that comes up for me is the most literal one. That’s the reference to (or “the matter of”) guns out there in the hands of blacks. Along those lines, it  incorporates the racist stereotype of violent black dudes and how the white man, with his family to protect, can’t just sit there idle.

UPDATE: Credit to Ján Tiliki below for referencing “Black Guns Matter,” the organization. It was started by a man named Maj Toure, a Republican, African-American, NRA member and Second Amendment advocate concerned with gun training and responsible gun ownership, particularly among black citizens in more violent urban communities. Here is their Facebook page, and a write up at NPR.

We appreciate the context and emphasize that the man in the Colorado photo could have an innocent identification with the organization. At the same time, however, nothing exists in a vacuum in our highly politicized society. That is evidenced by the interest in BGM by Brietbart.com and Sean Hannity, especially insofar as the tiny group (3k Facebook followers) takes on the Democrats and there is a wedge for the alt-right site (and unforgiving Trump advocates) to drive there. That said, the larger point and the unavoidably larger context here has to do with this white guy choosing to wear the shirt, and the name of this tiny organization as a slogan to a Trump rally in the closing days of the candidate’s increasingly scorched earth, Brietbart-infusted campaign.  If we unintentionally defamed BGM and any altruistic intent, we regret that.  At the same time, Given Trump’s super-charged hostility and his incitement of paranoia in his overwhelmingly white audiences, as well as his patronization of the black community alternating with repeated stereotyping of these communities as violent, amoral and destitute, we feel our critique of the phrase, in the setting and context of the photo, is completely valid.

(photo: Nate Gowdy/Instagram)

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