Once, Fred Scott and I lived as neighbors in houses that sat side by side on Fifth Street in Southeast, D.C. Ma and Daddy moved us to their first house in 1971 after years of living in an apartment in Parklands.
Like my father, Fred’s Pops (of course we called him Mister Scott) worked hard, laughed hard, and lived with that unsung dedication which always makes me think of advice that Daddy always gave me: do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do!
So in May 2020, Fred Scott, now a grown man, started a post on Facebook like this:
“I thought I would share this story this morning with my FB family and friends which caused me to break down and cry this morning.”
Read the rest and you’ll see he meant tears of joy, and you’ll see why I’m so deeply moved.
“My mom gave me my fathers wallet years ago and I never thought about going through it because there was nothing in it [–] so I thought[;] he had this picture of me tucked away. if you really know me[,] you know how private I am. I’m going to show this to my daughter who never had the chance to meet her beloved and wonderful grandfather who was the best father and caring man that you will ever meet. I know his spirit is always with me and all his kids. I will see you again and I miss you so much R.I.P. DADDY I LOVE YOU.“
Like a shocking reveal to an inspiring story, ‘… this picture of me tucked away …’ was a school photo of Fred as an elementary school student!
Everyday, Mr. Scott carried his little boy’s photo. Everyday, Mr. Scott reminded himself why he worked so hard. Erryday until he died!
After international viewings of video showing Mr. Floyd suffocated, U.S. Representative from Boston Ayanna Pressley wrote on Twitter on May 26, 2020:
“Just for a moment, I am going to drown out the images of profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized & murdered black boys & men w/images of their joy. It won’t erase the ache, agony & fear, but joy is an act of resistance too. Add your #blackboyjoy #blackmanjoy.”
On May 27, @wodouble22 wrote Representative Pressley: “YOU literally have the power to introduce legislation to protect Black people and hold police accountable but you’re talking about posting some damn pictures. No wonder they can kill us with impunity….SMDH.”
Igniting a thread…debating value of the images…in a classic case of either/or thinking:
@DuaneAMoody wrote: “You can’t symbolically do away with the ugliness of this country by countering that ugliness with pictures and not POLICY!! Lord, you new folks are proving useless as well. I just don’t know what to do after we vote in supposed progressives who STILL draw on symbolism.”
@_AVBAD wrote: “Drown it out by drafting a bill or proposing some legislation that protects us! This is our political class, black people. Notice how useless they are, posting feel good content, during our slow genocide. #MinneapolisPoliceMurderdHim #MinneapolisPD”
The thread of photos on May 27 was LOOOOONG!
The photos featured all generations, all complexions. There were photos from all over the U.S., and from Africa. Photos featured dudes wearing suits and swim trunks. Obvious activists and cats in more quiet settings. Grandparents posted. Fathers, Mothers, Aunties, Uncles posted. Brothers, Sisters, and Cousins posted. Photos showed men and boys playing ball, playing trumpets; with their daughters, with their sons, with their Homeboys, with their frat brothers.
The call for these images was appropriate. Y’all know I’ve been SHOUTING this call for years, most recently in my Faces of the Black Man of Happiness social media campaign See You … Emanating a Sense of Joy on Instagram @seeyou247.
That so many folks were inspired to post photos reflects vitality that too typically goes unheralded. Vitality that at its best actually keeps us inspired to organize, fight in legislative arenas, take to the street. Pressley obviously tapped an emotional vein to have inspired posts by such an invigorating cross-section of folks.
It’s a measure of how wounded we are that even a call to pause ‘just for a moment’ from being society’s bulls eye seems too long for some folks, as if genuine joy doesn’t deserve to be celebrated, as if Black men should be only mourned, only fought for, only used as a cause, only be the poster child of a slogan.
In this case, attacking a legislator such as Pressley, though well within the job description for a public official, seems sigh-inducing. From the beginning of her career in Congress, she’s consistently raised her voice for a humane vision in bills she’s (co)sponsored, including one that would end the principle of qualified immunity, in which police officers and other public officials are shielded from lawsuits in the course of doing their jobs.
Already Pressley has endured (and more than held her own) a national game of the dozens with Trump Devoid of Funk, who derisively and dismissively said that Representatives Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar made up “the Squad” whose members, all U.S. citizens, were asked in a tweet: “…why don’t they go back…’ to their ‘countries.’”
When racist-dehumanizing mythology is the foundation of social attack, then you better bet that the use of ‘some damn pictures’ (not to mention film and other media) MUST be a part of the quilt of conceptions and strategies and actions of resistance and renewal and restoration.
“The endeavor to affirm the dignity of human life cannot be waged without pictures, without representational justice….” wrote Sarah Lewis in ‘Vision & Justice: Guest Editor’s Note’ for the special issue of Aperture magazine. “American citizenship has long been a project of vision and justice.”
Critically, In the face of lethal relentlessness, these photos belong to a long righteous tradition of creative disturbance on behalf of our humanity.
The photos do NOT represent powerless ‘symbolic’ celebrations in the face of overpowering enemies. They are NOT trying to convince our enemies of our humanity.
Just scan the eloquence of the captions — even at the pace of a Twitter feed. The posted photos prove that we, the people are the sacred audience for these breathtaking images!
In most viewers, smiling at these photos, laughing at these photos, smiling and laughing WITH these joyful human beings, absolutely ignites a gratifying implosion. Absolutely ignites that cascade of brain chemistry and visceral response, which restore or revive our inspiration and motivation to ACT with ethical determination and discernment as citizens. That expansive cascade represents “an inner, life-changing shift,” in Lewis’s words.
(And we damn sure know the visceral rush of that negative chemical cascade triggered by the viral videos of the murders of Mr. Floyd and too many others!)
How effing ahistorical is it to rant that these photos are not part of ‘The Struggle.’ As if we don’t have the right to grieve and mourn along with our right to rage and resist.
These photos are a reflection of what already exists.
Happiness as Geology. As Nature. As Human Hunger.
Happiness as Refreshing Protection. As Motivating Counterspell.
Happiness marked by individuality and distinction.
These photos are now part of the public record, and reflect what Lewis calls the “gravity of this connection between vision and justice.”
These photos illustrate our relentless, and parallel, Oral History of Happiness.
Like Fred Scott’s picture, these photos tell no lie!
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… I understand and embrace the wonderful African American humanity with which we forged joy out of insanity. But it’s time to forge joy from joy, ignite happiness from happiness, to spiral inward to get to an indivisible irradiation, whose fragrance is exhaled as part of each breath we take. Want to be happy. Will be happy. Become ornery about happiness. What happiness can I cultivate when I don’t have to look over my shoulder? What endorphins will I release – in my body and into the body politic – by singing of myself, singing to myself…being myself…again…? What ecstasy? For ourselves and for others we love …?” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop