When the compressed frustration of black folks spills over into physical expressions of both rage and outrage, the resulting images can be jarring. It looks like chaotic crazy, not the least bit by accident, because mainstream media absolutely loves getting hold of a story, splicing together some footage and wringing the life out of it without even pretending to explore the long-suffered systemic issues.
It’s frustrating for us because we’re adults and we know better. But when we don’t put that media coverage into context for our children, we run the risk of leaving them quietly confused and vulnerable to the negative impressions left by haphazard, incomplete storytelling.
Thank God for photo books, excellently executed and full of vibrancy, that not only make good coffee-table conversation pieces when company comes over but also give parents tactile and visual aids to explain what black revolution has looked like during our American experience. Riots are just one way that we’ve raged and resisted against the machine.
This short list of titles captures civil disobedience, peaceful marching, self-reliant service to the community and, yes, previous instances of rioting that have facilitated revolution in some way. May they kick off candid talks with our kids to help explain what’s going on now, why it’s happening and what has effectively created change in our communities in the past.
Freedom: A Photographic History of the African American Struggle
As the events at the root of the Baltimore riots continue to seethe, this book looks back at the post-Rodney King uprising in South Central Los Angeles nearly 25 years ago and tells other stories of not only our struggle against disenfranchisement, but our proactive demand for basic rights for centuries, since the enslavement period. Co-authored by scholar Manning Marable, Freedom: A Photographic History of the African American Struggle is a photographic journey of the many ways in which we’ve grabbed at and latched on to that very thing using political platforms, social activism and intrinsic courage.
The Black Panthers
I caught my daughter looking at the pictures in this book when she was in elementary school, and her interest gave me a chance to talk about the Black Panthers beyond the big Afros and black power fists. A candid shot of a brother intensely conversing with three boys during the Free Breakfast for Children program is juxtaposed against a shot of Bobby Seale’s campaign car during his bid for mayor of Oakland, Calif., in 1973. The Black Panthers, beautifully photographed by Stephen Shames, shows off the diversity—and the humanity—of the movement and the many ways those men and women initiated revolution, from grassroots rallies to public intimidation.
Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle
The cover alone is a stunning variation of the typical imagery we see associated with the marches and arrests and persecution of protesters in the 1950s and ’60s. Inside Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle, Martin Berger combines the work of several photographers whose images incite emotion and offer opportunity for lots of dialogue, like a picture of then-15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, being viciously harassed by a mob of Simplicity-pattern-dress-wearing housewives on her first day of school. Hers is a quiet, dignified, probably terrified, form of resistance, but it’s representative of the many ways that our foreparents pushed through self-sacrifice and bravely held their ground to effect change.